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William Herschel 

and His Work 

By James Sime, M.A., F.R.S.E, 


Previous Volume in this Series'; — 

Buddha and Buddhism. 

By Arthur Lillie. 
For List of Volumes already issued and in preparation see end. 



William Herschel 

and His Work 


James Sime, M.A., F.R.S.E. 

**The life of Herschel had the rare advantage 
of forming an epoch in an extensive branch of 

Edinburgh. T. & T. Clark 


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To present to the public the life and work of a man 
who powerfully influenced the progress of astronomy a 
century ago, and stamped on his own age as well as 
ours a loftier view of Creation and its Author than was 
ever before entertained, may be best done by allowing 
him and his contemporaries to tell their own story, 
and to relate their own impressions. We all prefer to 
hear them speaking, to see them playing their parts in 
life, and io Tateh L drama of Lprise, wonder, and 
criticism unfolding itself in their written or printed 
pages. If I have succeeded in my endeavour to tell 
the story on these lines, I shall have attained the end 
which I had in view when I undertook this work. 
. William Herschel was not a mathematician of the 
order of Newton, Laplace, or even of his own son. He 
made no pretence to that high honour. His fields of 
research were much simpler, though not less laborious, 
and the harvests he reaped were enjoyed by mankind 
without a strain on the understanding which very few 
in any age are capable of. A popular exposition of 
his career and his discoveries in the light of more 


recent triumphs may be as easy to follow now, and as 
welcome as it was in his own day. 

What Sir William and Lady Huggins recently said 
of their own labours with the spectroscope, Herachel 
could have said a century before of the difficulties 
his sister and he encountered and overcame with the 
telescope : " It is scarcely possible at the present day, 
when all these points are as familiar as household 
words, for any astronomer to realise the large amount 
of time and labour which had to be devoted to the 
construction of the first star spectroscope."^ 

1 Atlas, 1899, p. 8. 











IX. THE SUN 165 






INDEX 263 





Cicero in his exquisite little book, written two 
thousand years ago in the infancy of astronomy, and 
called Scipio's Dream, delighted the Roman world of 
his day with stories of the stars, which were a mixture 
of romance and truth. He formed some idea of their 
movements from a rough approach that had been made 
even then to a globe of the heavens, and he filled his 
readers with awe at the music which was believed 
to accompany their passage through space. The music 
of the spheres has passed into our language and our 
thoughts at the present day. But it would have been 
the greatest wonder of all could Cicero have foreseen 
that, more than nineteen centuries after his day, the 
true music of the spheres and the truest means of 
hearing it sung would be discovered by the genius, 
the almost unaided genius, of " a philosopher without 
the rules," a musician in the town of Bath, then a 
haunt of savages or wild beasts. He was organist 
in the Octagon Chapel of that city, the director of 


concerts and balls in a " rendezvous of the diseased/' 
where "ministers of state, judges, generals, bishops, 
projectors, philosophers, wits, poets, players, fiddlers, 
and buffoons" met and trifled, amid "dressing, and 
fiddling, and dancing, and gadding, and courting, and 
plotting." But so it was; and never were men and 
pursuits so unlike brought face to face, or placed side 
by side in the business of life. 

When " the music and entertainments of Bath were 
over for the season," and " when not a soul was seen 
in the place but a few broken- winded parsons, waddling 
like so many crows along the North Parade, great 
overgrown dignitaries and rectors, with rubicund 
noses and gouty ankles, or broad bloated faces, drag- 
ging along great swag bellies, the emblems of sloth and 
indigestion," this pleasant-faced director of concerts 
and oratorios, this man of smiling look and noble 
bearing, wearied out with the music of the season, 
sought rest and refreshment in a constant and devoted 
study of the higher music of the heavens. He had 
none to help him but a younger sister, who was un- 
willingly dragged from the concert-room and the 
theatre to less congenial pursuits, and for some time a 
younger brother, who was believed to play the violon- 
cello divinely, and who certainly could apply himself 
with credit to mechanical pursuits. With untiring 
energy he worked out this ancient music of the spheres, 
till the world was astonished at his success, learning 
confessed her debts to his genius, and a new era 
dawned in the history of science. He sprang into fame 
almost at one bound,passed from theatre and music-room 
to the Hall of the Royal Society, and was saluted by 
organs of public opinion as an " extraordinary man." 


Oi the early life of this musician not much is known 
beyond the brief record by his sister and fellow- 
worker, Caroline Lucretia Herschel, written when 
she was past eighty years of age, and twenty years 
after his death. It was, as she styled it, "a little 
history of her own life, 1772-1778," not intended for 
the eyes of an admiring world, but prepared for her 
distinguished nephew. Sir John, the only son of her 
brother, Sir William Herschel. It is also a most inter- 
esting story of diflSculties overcome in the pursuit of 
knowledge, — difficulties that were then almost insuper- 
able, — of the devoted love with which she helped to 
smooth his path to fame, and of the moral beauty 
which ennobled her brother's life. An affection so 
touching between brother and sister is far from an 
uncommon thing in the records of mankind, but it 
never produced richer fruit or shone with brighter 
lustre than in the lives of William Herschel and his 
sister Caroline. 

Frederick William Herschel, — although he dropped 

the name Frederick in England after 1758, till it 

reappeared in his son's name in 1792, — the fourth of a 

family of ten children, was bom on November 15, 

1738. His sister, Caroline Lucretia, the eighth of the 

family, was bom on March 16, 1750. She was thus 

nearly twelve years his junior, an interval sufficient to 

surround the elder of the two with the haze of romance 

in the eyes of the younger. Between them there was 

a strong attachment, from the time the little sister 

could show or express her feelings. From infancy to 

old age he was "the best and dearest of brothers"; 

his son was her pet, her dearest nephew; and both 

were worthy of her affection. The dependence of a 


weaker nature on a stronger was not the bond that 
united brother and sister in a lifelong devotion to 
science and to each other. There was something more 
noble. They were the two members of the family in 
whom genius and perseverance united to overcome 
difficulties. None of the others possessed equal genius ; 
none of them were gifted with the same perseverance. 
What these two undertook they did with intense 
affection for each other, and with a determination not 
to be baffled, where others could not be blamed had 
they submitted to defeat. The other members of the 
family that enter into the story of the lives of these 
two were, the elder brother, Jacob, and the younger, 
Alexander; the one nearly four years older than 
William, and the other seven years younger. Flighty, 
vain, selfish, and uncertain, Jacob was a specimen of 
what the eldest brother in a family should not be, but 
is frequently allowed to become by indulgent and 
foolish parents. Of such inferior capacity to William 
that the latter mastered their French lessons in half 
the time taken by Ja<5ob, he had the power of 
creating unhappiness by starting difficulties at every- 
thing that was done for him ; by selfishly insisting on 
travelling comfortably by post, while his father, with 
an impaired constitution, and his brother William, 
a fast-growing and delicate lad, were content, for 
economy's sake, to trudge the weary miles homeward 
on foot; by whipping his little sister, sixteen years 
younger than himself, because, in her awkwardness, 
she did not come up to his lordly ideas of what a 
tablemaid should be to a man of his standing ; by his 
bad humour when his beefsteak was hard, or because 
Caroline could not use brick-dust in cleaning the little 


cutlery they possessed. There was no love lost be- 
tween a brother of twenty, who could thus bully a 
sister of four or five, and make himself disagreeable 
all round. It would have been odd had he not sown 
in the girl's mind a plentiful crop of dislike or hatred. 
Alexander, so much nearer herself in age, was less 
disliked, but does not seem to have been, at first, much 
more loved. At one time it seemed as if he thought 
himself entitled to imitate the lordly ways of Jacob, 
and his contempt of the little sister, shy, small for her 
age, and uneducated even in the family inheritance, 
musia William, on the other hand, waa a family 
idol to the girl and her parents. When she failed to 
find him and her father on the parade-ground after a 
year's absence from home, and returned to the house 
to see them all seated at table, "my dear brother 
William threw down his knife and fork, and ran to 
welcome, and crouched down to me, which made me 
forget all my grievances." The young soldier, the 
hero of her romance, was then eighteen years of age ; 
the girl was six. Could a more charming picture of 
brotherly love have been drawn, or a firmer foundation 
laid for the sisterly affection that continued unim- 
paired through half a century of toilsome and absorb- 
ing work ? With much diflBculty the girl was allowed 
to receive some sewing lessons at a school where 
girls of higher rank were taught. It was the means 
of introducing her to a young lady who, as Mrs. 
Beckedorff, became a lifelong friend and companion 
at Windsor, and, sixty years later, at Hanover. 
Caroline was, as she says herself, the Cinderella of 
the family. " I could never find time," she wrote in 
1838, " for improving myself in many things I knew, 


and which, after all, proved of no use to me afterwards, 
except what little I knew of music, being just able to 
play the second violin of an overture or easy quar- 
tette, which my father took a pleasure in teaching 
me. N.B, — When my mother was not at home. 
Amen." ^ 

The family, though poorly provided with worldly 
goods, was richly endowed with mental gifts, which 
had only to be well laid out to lead to wealth and 
fortune. The father, Isaac Herschel, came of a sturdy 
Protestant stock, which, about a century before his 
birth on January 14, 1707, escaped persecution in 
Moravia by emigrating to Saxony. Isaac's father was 
there employed in the Royal gardens at Dresden, and 
earned a name for himself as a skilful landscape 
gardener. A passionate love of music, however, com- 
pelled the son to forsake his father's business of 
gardening, and betake him to his favourite study 
under a hautboy player in the Royal band. After 
pursuing the study at Berlin and Potsdam, he journeyed 
in 1731 to Hanover, where he became a hautboy player 
in the band of the Elector's Guards, and where he 
married in the year following. George ii. was then 
Elector of Hanover. To that connection with Britain 
was sometimes due our entanglement in the politics 
and wars of the Continent, and the bringing across 
of Hanoverian soldiers, perhaps of Hessians also, to 
defend this country when threatened with invasion 
by France. War brought its troubles to the Herschel 
family. From these troubles arose singular com- 
pensations for the advancement of science, the honour 
of the family, and the welfare of mankind. On the 

^ Memoirs, p. 299. 


night after the battle of Dettingen (June 16, 1743) 
the bandmaster of the Guards, as the father had then 
become, lay in a wet furrow, which sowed in him the 
seeds of an illness that never left him during the rest 
of his life. It spread a cloud of gloom over the family 
circle for nearly twenty years. 

Isaac Herschel was a man of intelligence, qualified 
to talk on higher matters than flute-playing or band 
music. But he was not head of his own house. Like 
many foolish fathers, he allowed the eldest son to 
usurp his place, nor did he shield the younger children 
from the eldest's bullying. Apparently the mother, 
a woman of small intelligence, had also a favourite in 
her eldest daughter, Sophia, who lived away from 
home, and whom Caroline did not see till she came 
back to be married to Griesbach, a musician of com- 
monplace ability in the Guards' band. Sophia was 
then about twenty-one, Caroline four or five. Caroline 
liked neither her sister nor her sister's husband. But 
the married daughter did not remain long away from 
the family she left. War broke out, one of the inter- 
minable wars of Frederick the Great, which drove her 
back to her father's house. There the impatience of 
her temper and her dislike of children drove Caroline 
from little warmth or affection within the house to 
cold and neglect outside. What neither father nor 
mother would have allowed in a well-regulated family, 
the child was forced to endure, with sullen and natural 
resentment. An elder brother and an elder sister con- 
sidered the position of household drudge good enough 
for Caroline, without schooling, and even without 
sewing. While the father and sons showed unusual 
knowledge, and even developed somewhat of genius 


for music, this neglected girl was neither taught nor 
allowed to sing a note. Her anchor of safety lay in 
the simple devotion with which, even then, she wor- 
shipped "her best and dearest of brothers, William." 
She herself called it the affection of "a well-trained 
puppy-dog " for its master. In after life she showed 
more regard for her sister's son, George Griesbach, 
one of the musicians of George iii.'s court, than she 
ever entertained for his father or mother. But her 
affection for him was lukewarm compared with the 
intensity of its glow towards another nephew, the son 
of her brother WiUiam, the distinguished mathema- 
tician and philosopher, Sir John F. HerscheL Of the 
latter she can never speak enough, nor in terms of 
praise sufficiently high : and deservedly. 

Such was the household William Herschel was 
brought up in. It was, or might have been, a home 
of genius. The father had much in him of music 
and of knowledge generally to fit him for the training 
and encouragement of his sons. But they were not 
all equally worthy of his regard. Ill health, while 
they were still children, the eldest not more than ten, 
may have weakened his vital power at the time when 
it was most indispensable for him firmly to hold the 
household helm and keep every member in his own 
place. His wife was badly fitted to rule or guide 
their little community of boys and girls. She had to 
fight a battle with privation and a small income ; she 
had to face the hostile occupation of the country, 
and the unscrupulous exactions of invaders. Driven 
from pillar to post, she pampered some of her sons, 
she petted a favoured daughter, and turned another 
daughter, more deserving of affection, into a household 


slave. It was a poor home, badly governed, but rich 
in promise. She nearly wrecked everything by her 
folly ; but that folly was strangely overruled for the 
welfare of humanity and the honour of her own 

The Memoirs of Caroline Herschel furnish the only 
trustworthy account of the means, by which genius 
and hard work combined laid the foundation, on which 
her brother s fame was built. At the same time they 
have left room for myths or legends to supplement 
facts or to fill up gaps in the story of the first half of 
his life. This is unfortunate ; but it was known to 
his sister, who was unwilling or unable to apply a 
remedy. It is thus not always easy to present the 
truth of these early yeara So busy was she kept that 
in 1786 she writes, "For these last three years I have 
not had as many hov/ra to look in the telescope." 



The education of a child is commonly supposed to 
begin and end at school. It neither begins there nor 
ends there. Reading, writing, and arithmetic may, 
and should, be taught in every school, as the indis- 
pensable equipment of a boy or girl for the battle 
of life. But the real school is the world of life, 
however wide or however narrow its boundaries may 
be. Surroundings of one kind or another encompass 
child and man alike, forming the outer and larger 
school, in which all are entered as pupils for self- 
control, for truthfulness, for honour, and other often 
neglected but necessary virtues. In the elementary 
school for reading, writing, and arithmetic, Caroline 
Herschel can scarcely be said ever to have been entered. 
She was a neglected child in these respects. To a 
woman of her quickness of parts and calculating 
power the multiplication table continued to be a 
puzzle throughout life. Elementary learning was con- 
sidered to be of little or no use to a girl who was to 
attend her brother's whims, cook his dinner, and brush 
his clothes. The mother, proud of her sons, took no 
thought of her little daughter, except to reckon up 
that the girl might save her a servant's wagea Other 
mothers have committed the same blunder since her 



days with equally evil results. The ill health of the 
f ather, and their straitened means, may help to explain 
this neglect of the little girl, without excusing it. 
Up to the close of a long life she never ceased to 
regret and reprobate the treatment to which she was 
subjected in childhood. But, unlike her youngest 
brother, Dietrich, she laid no part of the blame for 
this neglect on their invalid father. "Dietrich," she 
says, "never recollected the eight years' care and 
attention he had received from his father, but for ever 
munnured at having received too scanty an education, 
though he had the same schooling we all of us had 
had before him." 

It was diflferent with her brother William. In 
Hanover there was at that time a garrison school, 
taught by a capable teacher. Master and pupil, find- 
ing in each other what the other wanted, were a credit 
to their fellowship in learning. All the children were 
in the habit of attending this school, from the age of 
two to fourteen ; but Caroline seems to have got little 
good from it, and at two or even four years of age 
she would have been much better at home under a 
another's care. The teacher had some knowledge of 
Latin and arithmetic. Out of school hours he im- 
parted to William Herschel all he knew of these 
branches French the boy also learned, as the polite 
language of the world of civilised men, and the tongue 
of the enemies of his King and country. > English is 
not mentioned among his acquirements, although the 
Elector of Hanover was then George ii. of England ; 
but a King who spoke indifferent English at Windsor, 
or none at all, would not encourage the study of it 
in the garrison school at Hanover. Even the German 


language did not then rank high in the estimation 
of kings and princelings who made a pretence to 
literature. It was the tongue of rude and ignorant 
boors. Among them French was the language of 
learning, literature, and politeness. William Herschel 
was too quick-witted to neglect the language of the 
country he was destined to look forward to for prefer- 
ment. He became a proficient in English, though at 
the best it was sometimes dictionary English, with 
its long Latin words, that cropped up in his written 
pages. Towards the end of his life, his mother tongue, 
the rude language of Germany, as it was then deemed, 
became somewhat unfamiliar to him. His sister Caro- 
line, after fifty years' residence in this country, had to 
consult an English dictionary to find or recover words 
sufficiently strong to describe the objects of her dis- 
like. Her brother, after a longer residence in England, 
found difficulty in carrying on a conversation in 
German with the Chancellor of the University of 
Halle, who paid him a visit at Slough shortly before 
the close of his life: "All accounts from his native 
country seemed to please him, although the German 
language had become somewhat less familiar to his 
ear." So the visitor wrote. Both brother and sister 
appear to have felt as Caroline felt when she wrote 
in her eighty-sixth year that she was a countrywoman 
of the Duke of Cambridge and would not be a 

The schooldays of William Herschel ended at the 
age of fourteen ; his real education then began. Under 
the careful instruction of his father, he had become 
an excellent performer on the oboe and violin. But 
the father had higher views for a young man of his 


ability than to see him enrolled as an oboist in the 
band of George 11. 's Hanover Guarda That was easy 
of attainment : it was merely the lowest round of the 
ladder, and did not lead to any height. The eldest 
brother, Jacob, became organist, at the age of nineteen, 
in the garrison chapel: he cannot be said to have 
risen higher. Even then the younger brother was 
cherishing wider, loftier flights for his ambition than 
would satisfy a father's eagerest wish in the way of 
musical success. What these flights were we can 
dimly see in a few glimpses of mental progress made 
by the yoimg bandsman during the next few years. 

The two brothers, it seems, were often introduced 
to take part as solo performers in concerts at the 
Electoral court. Keen criticism of the music followed 
on their return home. But the criticism was varied 
by philosophical and scientific talk, which frequently 
lasted all night. What was the cause of this unusual 
interlude in a musician's life we are not informed. 
But among the subjects of discussion were astronomy 
and mechanics, whether the taste for these studies was 
awakened or not by what they saw and heard at the 
court festivities. William Herschel himself showed a 
decided turn towards the invention and making of 
mechanical appliances, simple things it might be, but 
the first appearance above ground of what was destined 
to be a rich harvest. Encouraged by his father, he 
persevered in exercising his skill. Long years after- 
wards, the elements of mechanical skill which were 
thus fostered, developed into the works which enabled 
him to search the depths of space for its innumerable 

Another subject which Isaac Herschel was not 


ignorant of, and seems to have taught some of his 
children, was a knowledge of the starry heavens. 
Caroline, whd enjoyed little of her infirm father's 
instruction and guidance, was sometimes taught by 
him to recognise stars and constellations in the cloud- 
less nights ; but the teaching then given was not seed 
that fell on a good soil. With William it was diflTerent. 
He was of an age and a disposition to be fascinated 
by the subject, and the golden hopes which the science 
at that time held out to astronomers must have 
coloured the dreams of many a youthful star-gazer. 
The British Government offered a great reward for 
the best means of finding the longitude of a ship's 
place at sea. A clockmaker might solve the problem 
by ingenious contrivances, and win the reward; or 
an astronomer, by more refined and more subtle 
methods, might furnish the sailor with knowledge 
and safety, and carry off the prize. William Herschel 
was a boy of thirteen when a young mathematician, 
almost self-taught, was appointed to a chair 
in the Hanoverian University of Qottingen, not 
forty miles from the town of Hanover.^ It was John 
Tobias Mayer, who taught there from 1751 till his 
death in 1762, and whose widow got three thousand 
pounds of the reward for the solution he left behind 
him of the problem of the longitude. It is probable 
enough that the name of this famous astronomer, 
with whose writings Herschel became familiar in 

^ The favotir with which Gottingen was regarded by George ii., who 
founded both Uniyersitj and Observatory, oonld not &il to exercise an 
influence on Herschel and his father. In 1756 the King presented the 
Obserratory with a mural quadrant of six feet radius, made by Bird 
of London. 


after years, was of common occurrence in the talks 
of father and son. Nothing is more likely, for other 
great names are known to have been discussed be- 
tween them. Another astronomer, afterwards a friend 
of Hersehel, made himself a name in the scientific 
world, Schroeter, of the Observatory at Lilienthal, in 
the Duchy of Bremen, about twenty miles from Hano- 
ver. Gibers and Harding, two of the astronomers who 
afterwards undertook to rival Hersehel in the dis- 
covery of planets, belonged to the same neighbourhood. 
There was at that time something in the air of 
Hanover and its neighbourhood that turned the eyes 
of young men of genius to the stars. It is therefore 
not surprising that students of the sciences so eminent 
as Newton, Leibnitz, and Euler entered freely into 
the talks between the father and his two eldest boys. 
Jacob preferred sleep to talk. William never grew 
tired of talk on men and subjects so attractive. He was 
surrounded by living and famous astronomers. Their 
works and fame served, probably, to nurse in him the 
spark of science that his father thus lighted or cherished. 
The prospect of war with France in 1755 gave 
Hersehel an opportunity of visiting the country of his 
dreams, England. Discontent was rife in our large 
towns ; incapacity was still more rife in the army and 
navy. It was the age of Admiral Byng, of Lord 
George Sackville, and of the Duke of Cumberland. 
The French king was known to be planning, and was 
likely to carry into effect, a descent on the English 
coast. In April it was supposed the storm would 
burst on Ireland, for that island was so defenceless 
that ten thousand troops might walk from one end of 
it to the other. In October it was reported that a 



flotilla of flat-bottomed boats was assembled at Dunkirk 
to transport an army to the English coast. The specu- 
lations of politicians were prefaced with, " If no French 
come." The situation was pronounced by some of them 
comical, and the nation drolL In March of the fol- 
lowing year " the King notified the invasion to both 
Houses, and his having sent for Hessians. There were 
some dislikes expressed to the latter ; but, in general, 
fear preponderated so much that the cry was for 
Hanoverians too." Hanoverian officers were even pre- 
ferred to the native-bom. But the cynics of London 
laughed, invented, and lied. "They said that the 
night the Hanover troops were voted, George ii. sent 
for his German cook, and said, ' Get me a very good 
supper; get me all de varieties: I don't mind ex- 
pense.' " Exquisites, like Walpole, were wondering 
where their foreign defenders would be encamped. If 
the Hanoverians should be stationed at Hounslow, 
" Strawberry Hill would become an inn, and all the 
misses would breakfast there, to go and see the 
camp ! " ^ Even in George Townshend's " admirable " 
cartoon, "which so diverted the town," "the Hano- 
verian drummer, Ellis," " though the least like, was a 
leading feature." Instead of fighting. Englishmen were 
sneering or laughing. 

It was in these days of fear and threatened invasion 
that the King's Hanoverian Guards were ordered to 
England.^ Isaac Herschel and his two sons, Jacob and 

1 Walpole, Letten, iii. 109, 164, 165, 206, 209, 217. 

'*' Towards the end of the year 1755," Caroline Herschel says 
(p. 8). This does not seem to be correct. Horace Walpole's Letters 
wonld lead a reader to place it several months later, in 1 756. Neither she 
nor her brother seems to hare been sore of the date. (Memoirs, p. 218.) 


William, were in the band of the regiment. Whether 
they encamped on Hounslow Heath and annoyed 
Strawberry Hill or not is unknown ; but for a whole 
year they remained in England, till apparently the 
invasion of Hanover by the French rendered their 
presence necessary at home. There was no invasion 
of England except by a flute-player, who saw the com- 
forts of the land, and came back a year later to make 
it and himself famous in the arts of peace, and to give 
Walpole a chance of handing down to posterity in his 
Letters the wonder excited, even among idlers and 
diners-out, by the earnest labours of William Herschel. 
The only spoil the musician carried home with him 
to Hanover was a copy of Locke's Essay con- 
cerning Human Understanding, on which he spent 
as much of his pay as he could spare. His brother 
Jacob took back some English goods and some fine 

Caroline Herschel is of opinion that had it not been 
for the war troubles, in which Hanover was now 
involved, and had peace allowed these scenes of happy 
discussion between father and son to continue till their 
natural application to practice, her brother would have 
given proof of his inventive genius long before it 
revealed itself, in the thirty-sixth year of his age. 
Prophecies of this kind after the event are not un- 
common, but they may be as groundless as they are 
uncertain. Seed was sown in Herschel's mind by an 
enlightened father, who " was a great admirer of 
astronomy, and had some knowledge of that science." 
The boy of sixteen was also encouraged by him to try 
his hand on mechanical contrivances, of which one took 
an especial hold on his sister's childish mind, " a neatly 


turned 4-inch globe, upon which the equator and ecliptic 
were engraved." But it was from a passionate devotion 
to music that the father looked for fame and money 
for his two sons. He seems just to have missed that 
aim with the flighty Jacob ; ^ it is pardonable to doubt 
that he could ever have attained it with the staid and 
persevering William. Neither of them had in him the 
making of a Handel, who was then, and had long been, 
the ornament of the English and Hanoverian court, 
and of whom the aspiring father could not fail to be 
always thinking. 

A greater check to progress than war or poverty 
was the mothers dislike of learning. She was 
resolved that, in spite of her husband's wish to 
educate Caroline, nothing should be taught the girl 
but what might prove useful to her as a household 
drudge. She would not allow her to learn French; 
she relaxed so far as to send her for two or three 
months to a sewing school to be taught to make house- 
hold linen, to which the girl added, out of her own 
ingenuity, the making of bags and sword-knots for her 
brothers' splendour at concerts, before she knew how 
to make caps and furbelowa The mother made no 
concealment of her reason for this unjust and narrow- 
minded treatment of her daughter. Referring to later 
troubles in which her own folly involved the family, 
she laid the blame where it had no right to lie : " It 
was her certain belief that William would have re- 
turned to his country, and Jacob would not have 
looked so high, if they had had a little less learning." 
" There is a great simplicity in the character of this 
nation," the physician of George IV. wrote of the 

^ Barney, History of AfusiCf iv. 603. See infraf p. 32. 


Hanoverians, when he accompanied that King on his 
visit to the Electorate in 1821. Perhaps Herschel's 
mother was an example of this great simplicity, mis- 
placed. At least it resulted in years and recollections 
of exceeding bitterness to William Herschel and his 
sister. There can be little donbt that both of them 
laid on her the blame of great mistakes committed, 
and grave responsibilities incurred, which darkened her 
son's future life. Possibly it had something to do with 
the difficulty he had, as he approached his eightieth 
year, in drawing up an autobiography, as he wished to 
do. He found " himself much at a loss for the dates 
of the month, or even the year, when he first arrived 
in England with his brother Jacob." The work was 
handed over to Caroline, who undertook it with the 
" proviso not to criticise on my telling my story in 
my own way." Her youngest brother, Dietrich, the 
scapegrace of the family, was under three years 
of age when these sorrowful passages occurred in 
their household history. When past seventy he was 
as hard to deal with as in his teens. '* Let me touch on 
what topic I would," she writes, " he maintained the 
contrary, which I soon saw was done merely because 
he would allow no one to know anything but himself." 
There were two strains in this large family, as 
there are in many others, one tending downwards, 
another soaring upwards, and the former is usually 
a grief to the latter. Jacob, Dietrich, and Sophia 
represented the one : William, Caroline, and, in a 
lesser degree, Alexander represented the other. The 
only one who made a fortune was William, and 
the one ' who got a larger share of it than any 
of the others, even than Caroline and Alexander, 


who helped him to make it, was the scapegrace, 
Dietrich.^ Family histories are strange things ! And 
yet Caroline at seventy-eight years of age says to 
her nephew, " Whoever says too Tnuch of me says 
too little of your father! and can only cause me 
uneasiness/' while Dietrich never believed he got 
even fair play for himself from parent, brother, or 

^ See William Herschel's will, Oentleman^s MagaaiTke, vol. zcli. 
Dietrich got £2000, but Alexander and Caroline got £100 a year each. 
As things went in those days, the undeserving fared far better than the 
really deserving. 



From the brief and guarded indications given by his 
sister Caroline, then a child of seven, sitting on the 
outer doorstep and watching all that took place with 
the wondering eyes of childhood ; from her picture of 
the mourning mother, and the parcel which she carried 
containing her son's accoutrements; from her view 
of the disguised brother stealing past, and from the 
prohibition even to mention his name, it is plain that 
WiUiam Herschel was smuggled out of Hanover in 
the summer of 1757. What we might call the con- 
scription was then in full force in town and country 
to supply the beaten army of Cumberland with 
recruit& But Herschel was a soldier, and was run- 
ning away from the colours. He was of a weakly 
constitution, growing rapidly, and unfit for the hard- 
ships of a soldier's life. So his mother said and, 
perhaps, also thought. For three months both 
Hanover and England had been expecting something 
to happen in the war with France. The Duke of 
Cumberland, of CuUoden fame, found it necessary to 
go abroad to " take command of the army of observa- 
tion." But so ill was he liked in England that, though 
"the drum was beat, none would list." The soldiers 
under his command in Hanover, and a motley crew 



they seem to have been, appear to have viewed his 
ability as cynically as it was viewed in England. 
" We hear," Horace Walpole writos, " that the French 
have recalled their green troops, which had advanced 
for show, and have sent their oldest regiments against 
the Duke." Twelve days later, he says : " This is not 
the sole uneasiness at Kensington; they know the 
proximity of the French to the Duke, and think that 
by this time there may have been an action: the 
suspense is not pleasant." Five weeks later came the 
news, " We are in a piteous way ! The French have 
passed the Weser, and a courier brought word yester- 
day that the Duke was marching towards them ; and 
within five miles: by this time his fate is decided." 
A few days more, and tidings came that " the French 
attacked the Duke for three days together, and at last 
defeated him: I find it is called at Kensington an 
encounter of fourteen squadrons." It took place at 
Hastenbeck near Hameln, on the Weser, the scene of 
the Pied Piper's exploit. Whether an encounter or a 
battle, it was fatal to the reputation of the Duke, and 
the English officers he had with him ; and it was fatal 
to Hanover, which from first to last paid more than 
two millions sterling to the victors. Above all, it was 
fatal to William Herschel's soldiering ; for years also 
it was fatal to his prospects in life, and to his peace of 
mind as well as his sister's; but, at last, it was the 
beginning of his endless fame. We can almost 
sympathise with a deserter from such a general, 
especially when he fled to his own King for pro- 
tection, not to the enemies of his country. 

An anxious and far from sensible mother took 
steps to save her delicate son. The French were 


about twenty miles to the south of the town ; the 
roads were so bad that even a King's coach, sixty 
years later, drawn by eight horses, could not make 
a longer stage than five miles;, an invading army 
would move more slowly. The north road towards 
the sea was clear of the enemy: and the German 
outposts extended no farther than the palace at 
Herrenhausen, about a mile and a half from the 
town. William Herschel passed these without molest- 
ation, journeyed along the Bremen road, and at last 
found his way to Hamburg, to which his trunk was 
sent after him. In the following year he appears to 
have crossed the sea to England. Obscurity then 
covers the fugitive's wanderings for nearly ten years. 
Five or six pages of sorrowful details are torn out of 
his sister's journal at this point ; and the way of the 
wanderer is lost in darkness. More is told by her of 
the eldest brother's comings and goings, of his rude 
and ungenerous treatment of her, than of the brother 
whom she worshipped. We could have taken less of 
Jacob, and more of William, — " the best and dearest of 
brothers," — as the circumstances manifestly required. 

After the lapse of seventy years Caroline Herschel 
felt as keenly as she did at first the unpleasantness of 
her brother's flight from Hanover. On his return as 
a King's messenger in 1786, bearing a King's present 
to the University of Gottingen, the editor of the 
Gottingen Magazine of Science and Literature got 
from him some particulars of his early life, which it 
would have been better if he had not furnished. " In 
my fifteenth year," he wrote, " I enlisted in military 
service, only remaining in the army, however, until I 
reached my nineteenth year, when I resigned, and 


went over to England."^ Herschel's friends did not 
know how to gloss over this unhappy passage in his 
life. What they said in England was as wide of the 
reality as what he unfortunately said of himself — 
"Unable, however, long to endure the drudgery of 
such a situation, and conscious of superior proficiency 
in his art, he determined on quitting the regiment," 
and arrived in England in the end of 1757. This is 
not a barefaced statement of untruth, like the resigna- 
tion of his position in the band.^ But the mother's 
foolishness was singularly overruled for good. 

Of William Herschel's wanderings after escaping from 
the beaten army of Cumberland the pages that are torn 
out of his sister's journal would probably have given 
information, but it is not till two years have passed 
that we again hear of him. He was then in England, 
along with his eldest brother, Jacob. On Jacob's return 
home in the end of 1759, William remained behind, 
studying apparently the theory of music. Many of 
his letters to Jacob on that subject were written in 
English, a proof apparently that his mind was made 
up not to seek his fortunes elsewhere. For five years 
he again almost disappears from view, till he is seen 
on a short visit to his Hanover home in the spring of 
1764, to the joy of his family, especially of his father, 
then an invalid, and of his young sister, Caroline. 
In the interval his musical ability obtained for him in 
his adopted country the post of bandmaster to a regi- 
ment, stationed in one of the northern counties, said 
to have been the Durham Militia. The Earl of 
Darlington is said to have selected him "to super- 

^ Quoted in Holden's Lift and Works of William Herschelt p. 4. 
* Oentleman^s Magazine^ vol. xcii. (1822). 


intend and instruct a military band then forming by 
that nobleman in the county of Durham. After this 
engagement ended, he spent several years in Leeds, 
Pontefract, Doncaster, etc." That he had been a 
soldier, officers and men would soon discover from 
his language and bearing. But he was, and seems to 
have remained, a mystery for years. In 1764 he was 
residing in Leeds, and went from that town on a 
visit to his relations in Hanover. Towards the end 
of 1765 he became organist of a church in Halifax, 
where he applied himself to the study of Latin, 
Italian, and mathematics. Music he continued to 
cultivate as his profession in life during these years 
of wilderness wandering. 

Southey, in one of his stories from Doncaster,^ re- 
presents Herschel, the astronomer, to have been, in 
1760, "only a few months in England, and yet" able 
to speak "English as well as a native." Miller, the 
organist of Doncaster, who lived in a two-roomed 
cottage, but had a collection of classical English works, 
became acquainted with him through an officer of 
the Durham Militia, found that his engagement with 
that regiment was " only from month to month," and 
urged him to leave them, and take up his abode in the 
" but and a ben," which he did. Swift is alone men- 
tioned as the English author Herschel preferred to 
read, which, though it be consistent with the list of 
favourite authors given by his sister, is not altogether 
satisfactory evidence of the authenticity of Southey's 
story. But, be that as it may. Miller was thus entitled 
to be called his "earliest acquaintance" in England, 
and certainly his best friend^ if it be true that he en- 

* The Doctor, ii. 261, from Miller's Donmster (1804), p. 162. 


couraged Herschel to apply for the organist's place in 
Halifax. But Miss Herschel in 1822 speaks of " Mr. 
Bulman from Leeds, the grandson of my brother's 
earliest acquaintance in this country,"^ and tells us 
that in 1764 he paid them in Hanover a fortnight's 
visit from " Leeds in Yorkshire (where he must be left 
for some time)." The organist's place at Halifax does 
not date from 1760, but from 1765. The inconsist- 
encies between Southey's story and Caroline Herschel's 
are too serious to allow us to accept his version of the 
means by which the organist's place at Halifax was 
gained in or about 1760 as true of "Herschel the 
astj'onomer." It is known that his brother Jacob was 
in England for two years about 1759. 

While resident in Halifax, Herschel appears to have 
paid a visit to Italy, the ancient land of poetry and 
astronomy. Our authority for this is Niemeyer, Chan- 
cellor of the University of Halle, who visited Herschel 
at Slough shortly before his death, and seems to have 
received the details of the journey from his own lips. 
When he reached Genoa on his way home, he found him- 
self short of money to meet expenses. He had gone to 
Italy to " improve himself in his profession of music " ; 
and he put his improvement to use "by an original 
kind of concert he gave in that town, in which he 
played on the harp and on two horns fastened on his 
shoulders at the same time." He procured the money 
he needed, and, had he not been proud of his youth- 
ful success as a musician, would not have told the 
story, fifty years after, to his learned and distinguished 
visitor, as either he or his sister Caroline must 
have done. Her Memoirs contain no information on 

* Memoirs, pp. 137, 826. 


this tour and concert. Her brother William seems to 
have at that time fallen entirely out of her life, and 
to have left her, without education, to become a house- 
hold drudge and the slave of her brother Jacob. But 
she cherished a spirit which, amid much that was 
extremely depressing, scorned to be the one or the 

In the following year, 1766, William removed to 
Bath, where he became a teacher of music and organist 
of the Octagon Chapel. For five or six years after, 
obscurity again settles on his life and adventures. All 
that Caroline records is that Jacob joined his brother 
at Bath, and showed the same flightiness of disposi- 
tion which the family had previously seen in his 
character. To speak of William as well known in the 
society for which Bath was then famous, or among 
the learned men and physicians by whom the town 
was frequented, is to people the darkness with visions 
of what we think should have been, but was not. He 
was little known there or elsewhere, till he took the 
world by storm ; but at that period events were taking 
place in Bath which helped materially to lift the cur- 
tain of darkness off his life in 1772. He was then 
thirty-four years of age. 

The musical director of Bath in those days was 
Linley, whose daughter Elizabeth, "at the age of twelve 
years, was brought forward publicly at the Rooms, 
where she so charmed the company by her taste and 
execution " as a singer, that she at once received the 
name of the Siren. Two years later she got a more 
attractive name, and was called the Angel. Her d^but 
took place in the very year Herschel came to Bath. 
Before she was seventeen she had turned the heads 


of all the young men by her beauty and accomplish- 
ments. Offer after offer was made for her hand, but 
the preference was given by her father, for reasons not 
creditable to him, to a suitor very much older than she 
was, but immensely wealthy. With difficulty the girl 
was persuaded to agree to the match. She withdrew 
from all public engagements, and nothing was talked 
of in Bath but the approaching wedding. While the 
town was in this state of expectation, William Herschel, 
seeing that great prizes were in prospect for attractive 
singe™. betSught himself of his sister CaroUne. then 
two or three years older than Miss Linley. He proposed 
that she should join him at Bath, after receiving lessons 
from their eldest brother, Jacob, in the hope that she 
" might become a useful singer for his winter concerts 
and oratorios." Should the experiment not succeed, 
he promised to bring her back to Hanover at the end 
of two yeara Evidently Jacob— he is described as 
"brilliant" — had been a failure in Bath. A bully, 
such as he was, could not help feeling that it was a 
reflection on him to suggest she might succeed where 
he had failed. Without ever hearing the girl sing, 
he " turned the whole scheme into ridicule," but she 
resented his conduct "by taking every opportunity 
when all were from home to imitate, with a gag be- 
tween my teeth, the solo parts of concertos, ahxike and 
aU, such as I had heard them play on the violin ; in 
consequence I had gained a tolerable execution before 
I knew how to sing." The cruelty or stupidity of the 
eldest brother had no effect on William, except to 
deepen his determination to make this experiment. 

Meanwhile, strange things were happening at Bath. 
Miss Linley's admirer threw up his engagement, and, 


as compensation, paid her father a thousand pounds 
for the loss of her services at concerts. It was an 
eminently discreditable business all round. But the 
young lady did not want admireiB. especiaUy in a 
family which migrated to Bath in 1771. Two of its 
members were Richard Brinsley Sheridan and his 
elder brother, Charles, both of them as poor as their 
itinerant father, but as foolishly proud, though with 
better reason. The girl preferred Richard, and in 
that showed her good sense. But she was said to be 
so thorough a flirt, that she was at the same time 
giving Charles to understand he was the favoured 
suitor.^ At last, knowing that her father's consent to 
a marriage with Richard would be refused, she eloped 
with him to France, and was placed by him in a con- 
vent. Brought back by her father, she was married 
to Sheridan on April 13, 1773. While this comedy 
was proceeding at Bath, Herschel made a brief run 
across to Hanover in April 1772, and returned for 
his sister in August. He was able to settle a small 
annuity on his mother in compensation for the loss 
Caroline's removal would entail on the household. 
She felt herself to be her mother's slave, to be bought 
and sold. After a journey of ten days, they reached 
London on the 26th of August, where, " when the shops 
were lighted up, they went to see all that was to be 
seen, of which she only remembered the opticians' 
shops, for she did not think they looked at any other." 

^ "Mrs. Sheridan is with us," Hannah More writes to her sister at 
Bristol in 1778, **and her husband comes down on evenings. I find I 
have mistaken this lady ; she is unafifected and sensible ; converses and 
reads extremely well, and writes prettily." Mrs. Sheridan was nine or 
ten years younger than Hannah More. 


She came to England to be a public singer, she begins 
her work by a few lessons on optical instruments in 
the shop windows of London. Herschel had by that 
time evidently entered on the race for fame. His 
sister was twenty-two years of age. 

Fourteen years after, when she had become a cele- 
brity in all the observatories of Europe, at the Royal 
Society, and in the palace at Windsor, she is thus 
described by a young woman, who was then as 
famous for her pen as Caroline became for her comet- 
finder. " She is very little," the authoress of Evdina 
writes, " very gentle, very modest, and very ingenuous ; 
and her manners are those of a person unhackneyed 
and unawed by the world, yet desirous to meet and 
to return its smiles. I love not the philosophy that 
braves it. This brother and sister seem gratified with 
its favour, at the same time that their own pursuit is 
all-sufficient to them without it." " I inquired of Miss 
Herschel if she was still comet-hunting, or content now 
with the moon? The brother answered that he had 
the charge of the moon, but he left to his sister to 
sweep the heavens for comets."^ Was this famous 
little lady above thinking of the small things which 
delight the fancy of less remarkable women ? In her 
case, would the answer to the prophet's question. Can 
a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire ? 
have been Fes! Far from it. When she made her 
first public appearance as a singer " her brother pre- 
sented her with ten guineas for her dress," and she 
tells us herself that her " choice could not have been a 
bad one," as the proprietor of the Bath theatre pro- 
nounced her " to be an ornament to the stage ! " All 

^ (Fanny Barney) Madame D'Arblay, LetUrSf etc., uL 442. 



the same, intercourse with fashionable young ladies in 
London did not give her a high opinion of them or 
their attainments, " she thought them very little better 
than idiots/' 

About three years after his daughter's marriage, 
Linley withdrew from Bath. His place was supplied 
by William Herschel, who, to quote Niemeyer's words, 
'' led the band at the theatre, conducted oratorios, and 
instructed some able pupils in that city." At that time 
" the Bath orchestra and its pump-room performances 
were the theme of general commendation in England," 
and to maintain the same standard of excellence, especi- 
ally after the Misses Linley's retirement, entailed heavy 
and unremitting labour on the new director. Whether 
Herschel entertained the idea or not that he might 
succeed with his sister Caroline as Linley had succeeded 
with his two daughters may be open to doubt, but it is 
unquestionable that he had it in his power to make the 
trial, and that he did bring her out as a public singer. 
The gains of success were large and tempting. Miss 
Linley, now Mrs. Sheridan, was oflfered a seven years' 
engagement in London at a thousand a year for twelve 
nights' singing, and as much more for a benefit. Success 
held out such dazzling prospects, that the certainty of 
failure could alone have prevented Herschel from per- 
severing in his attempt to train his sister as a pro- 
fessional singer. And he did not persevere. The lot of 
Caroline Herschel was not destined to be that of a public 
singer ; it was to be the lot of a woman of science at a 
time when few of her sex could aspire to that honour- 
able rank. Had William Herschel succeeded in turning 
out his sister as a public singer, or in placing her on 
the throne vacated by Miss Linley, would his race for 


bread not have become a race for riches instead of a 
race for fame? She herself had hopes of becoming 
a prima donna in the music world. Her friends 
cherished the same hope. But neither for her nor for 
her brother William did the race for fame lead along 
that road. For her brother Jacob, her detestation, it 
might possibly have so led. Dr. Bumey, the author of 
a Oeneral History of Music and other works, was also 
of that opinion. William Herschel to him was the 
" greatest astronomer " of the age, while of Jacob he 
writes : " Herschel, master of the King's band at Han- 
over, and brother of the great astronomer, is an excel- 
lent instrumental composer in a more serious and 
simple style than the present."^ Other women are 
mentioned by Dr. Bumey among the singers of fame 
in those days, but Miss Herschel gets no such honour- 
able mention in the annals of music. 

For some years following her arrival in England 
the lives of the two Herschels are so intermingled 
that the history of Caroline is to a large extent the 
history of William also. They were both running 
the same course, and the one was holding out a 
helping hand to the other in the same race, the race 
for bread and the race for fame. Flighty, uncer- 
tain, bullying Jacob sunk out of their life in October 
1787; but another brother, more to Caroline's mind, 
had entered it, and continued to diffuse a pleasant 
savour in the household at Bath, Alexander,^ about 
five years older than his sister. He was of great 
assistance both as a violinist and a mechanician. 
Alexander was not of the same cheery, hopeful nature 
as William. On the contrary, he went amongst 

* Histwy, ir. 603. ' Born November 13, 1746. 


them by the name of Dick Doleful, and when he 
fell into the dismals, as he seems frequently to have 
done, William and Caroline had the pleasure of 
laughing him out of them into good humour. The 
house ^ was managed by the family of Mr. Bulman, 
William HerscheVs "earliest acquaintance in this 
country," with whom he lodged in Leeds, and for 
whom he procured the situation of clerk to the 
Octagon Chapel. They occupied the parlour floor. 
"Alexander, who had been some time in England, 
boarded and lodged with his elder brother, and with 
myself," Caroline says, " occupied the attic. The first 
floor, which was furnished in the newest and most hand- 
some style, my brother kept for himself. The front 
room, containing the harpsichord, was always in order 
to receive his musical friends and scholars at little 
private concerts or rehears9;ls." A household so con- 
stituted, with a manager in charge " who had failed in 
business " in Leeds, and a strong-minded young woman 
who had known the thrift and drudgery of a poor 
German home in Hanover, had not in it the elements 
of stability. In six weeks, apparently, Caroline had 
to take the reins of household management into her 
own hands. No details are given; but, while still 
unable to speak English with comfort to herself, she 
was put in charge of the house accounts, and attended 
to the marketing, with her brother Alexander on guard 
behind to see that she found her way to market and 
home again in safety. The first time she ventured 
into a clamorous crowd of sellers, she brought back 
whatever in her fright she could pick up. But her 
battles with servants and her horror of waste were 

^ No. 7 New King Street. 


greater trials to temper than buying from market- 
people. These were troubles which worried her through 
life, though a reader may smile at the recital of Cin- 
derella's sufferings. Of the poverty in her childhood's 
Hanover home, she wrote when she was seventy-seven 
years of age, and had gone " back again to the place 
where," she says, " I first drew breath, and where the 
first twenty-two years of my life (from my eighth year 
on) had been sacrificed to the service of my family under 
the utmost self-privation without the least prospect or 
hope of future reward." Even then her trouble with 
servants never left her : " I may perhaps be spared a 
long confinement before I leave this world, else such 
a thing as a trusty servant is, I believe, hardly to be 
met with in this city of Hanover, which, along with 
the people in it, are so altered since the French occu- 
pation and the return of the military with their 
extravagant and dissipated notions, imbibed when in 
Spain and England, with their great pensions, which 
they draw from the latter country, that it is quite a 
new world, peopled with new beings, to what I left it 
in 1772." 

This young housekeeper and singer found herself in 
a world of astronomical talk, for which she had no 
liking, when she left her humble home in Hanover with 
her brother William. For six days and nights they 
travelled in the open and inconvenient postwagen of 
those times to the seacoast at Hellevoetsluis, where 
they were to take ship for England. So clear were 
the nights that William pointed out to his sister the 
stars and constellations of the northern sky. Arrived 
at Bath, she was launched on the study of music and 
the practice of singing, but during the long nights of 


winter William, evidently to divert her mind from the 
depressing home-sickness which weighed it down, gave 
her lessons in astronomy, or amused her with dreams 
that in a few years became waking realities. He was 
running a hard race for daily bread, for the thirty-five 
or thirty-eight lessons a week which he gave to music 
pupils might be counted work enough for an ordinary 
man, without reference to his duties as organist and 
manager of concerts. But he had also entered the 
arena of science in the race for lasting fame. A 
holiday from teaching meant for him increased work 
in the astronomical studies which were now absorbing 
his time and thoughts. " It soon appeared/' his sister 
writes, " that he was not contented with knowing what 
former observers had seen, for he began to contrive a 
telescope eighteen or twenty feet long (I believe after 
Huyghens' description)." Her help was continually 
wanted in executing the various contrivances required. 
Although the lenses were ordered from London, she 
had to make the pasteboard tube they were fitted into, 
and when the telescope was turned on Jupiter or 
Saturn, she had to keep the paper tube straight till 
her brother got a peep through it. We need not be 
surprised to read her complaint that her music lessons 
were much hindered by astronomy, housekeeping, and 
indifierent servants. She was realising an old truth. 
Her brother and she imagined that service to two or 
three or even to four masters was possible. They 
were finding out that they could really serve only one. 
And slowly but surely William Herschel and his sister 
weilB drifting into the service of the one master, not 
the fleeting fame of a singer but the lasting fame of 
a discoverer. But those days of singing were never 


forgotten. In the last year of her life, when visited by 
the Crown Prince of Hanover, his wife and child, she 
sang to them a composition of her brother William's, 
" Suppose we sing a Catch." The gulf between 1780 
and 1847 was at once beautifully bridged by the little 
old lady of ninety-seven ! 

DoUond had shown in the Philosophical Transactions 
for 1758 how the colours, that rendered a refracting 
telescope useless as a means of discovery, might be 
obviated. He pointed out to his countrymen how flint 
glass and crown glass corrected each other's defect, and 
might be used, as they had never been used before, to 
search into the depths of heaven. It was a marvellous 
discovery; but thought in those days was perhaps 
slower of action than it is now, for a seed of truth, 
laden with immense possibilities, lay dying in the 
ground for sixty years, till Fraunhofer of Munich 
applied it to construct the great refractor of Dorpat. 
But it was reflecting telescopes of the Newtonian and 
Gregorian pattern, not refractors such as Dollond's, to 
which the enthusiast of Bath finally turned his atten- 
tion. What Gregory and Newton had proposed or 
executed on a small scale, Herschel proceeded to build 
with his own hands on a vastly larger, after finding 
that the cost of even a small telescope would be above 
the price he " considered it proper to give." It was not 
a case, as might be supposed, of the narrow insularity 
of our countrymen thus to neglect a great discovery 
by following out a more cumbersome English method. 
Gregory, Newton, DoUond all belonged to this country. 
It was also the adopted home of Herschel, but he pre- 
ferred the toilsome telescopes of the two former to the 
simpler and now possible instrument of the latter. 


" At Bath in my leisure hours," he says, " by way of 
amusement, I made for myself several 2-feet, 5-feet, 
7-feet, 10-feet, and 20-feet Newtonian telescopes; 
besides others of the Gregorian form of 8 inches, 
12 inches, 18 inches, 2 feet, 3 feet, 5 feet, and 10 feet 
focal length. My way was ... to have many mirrors 
of each sort cast ; and to finish them all as well as I 
could ; then to select by trial the best of them, which 
I preserved ; the rest were put by to be repolished. In 
this manner I made not less than 200, 7-feet; 150, 
10-feet ; and about 80, 20-feet mirrors, not to mention 
those of the Gregorian form, or of the construction of 
Dr. Smith's reflecting microscope, of which I also made 
a great number. . . . The number of stands I invented 
for these telescopes it would not be easy to assign." ^ 
The story he tells of this magnificent " amusement," if 
less racy than his sister's, is far more wonderful. Could 
these mirrors have been sold at the prices then ruling 
the market, a large fortune would have rewarded the 
maker, as it ultimately did. 

In June 1773 the new departure of Herschel com- 
menced. Some of his pupils had left Bath ; concerts, 
oratorios, and the theatre were at an end for five or 
six months. " To my sorrow," his sister writes, " I saw 
almost every room turned into a workshop." A 
cabinetmaker was making a tube and stands of all 
kinds in the drawing-room; her brother Alexander 
was "turning patterns, grinding glasses, and turning 
eye-pieces " in a bedroom ; and while this manufactory 
was in its busiest whirl, William Herschel was besides 
composing glees, catches, anthems for winter consump- 
tion in the public rooms and the chapel, or holding 

^ PlUl, Transit 1796, pp. 347-^8. 


rehearsals frequently at home. Alexander had to leave 
his turning-lathe for these rehearsals, and the seldom 
enthusiastic sister writes of him, "his solos on the 
violoncello were divine." It was work without inter- 
mission. Even at meal-times William was generally 
employed "contriving or making drawings of what- 
ever came in his mind." Tea and supper were served 
without interrupting the work he had on hand. While 
he was at the turning-lathe or polishing mirrors for 
telescopes, Caroline read to him Don Quixote, the 
Arabian Nights, a novel of Sterne or Fielding. In 
course of time she became as useful a member of the 
household as a boy might be to his master in the first 
year of his apprenticeship. Still more " to drill me for 
a gentlewoman (God knows how she succeeded) two 
lessons per week for a whole twelvemonth from Miss 
Fleming, the celebrated dancing-mistress," were deemed 
indispensable. The drollery of the thing ! " As I was 
to take part the next year in the oratorios ! " nothing 
is wanting to complete the fun but " two lessons per 
week " at so much a lesson ! The old lady who wrote 
this story of work and drollery — both of them perhaps 
detested by her when she was still a fraulein fresh 
from her poor Hanover home — may have laid the 
colours a little too thickly on the picture of work, 
earnest, all-absorbing work, and absurd fun, which she 
left to posterity. We may well be gratified she has, 
for if she escaped from the sneers of bullying Jacob, 
she certainly fell into the hands of exacting William. 
The difference was that she detested the former, wor- 
shipped the latter, and made a great name for herself 
as well as helped to make a greater for him. 

She entertained the idea that her power as a singer 


would have assured her a respectable, if not a hand- 
some income, had her voice been cultivated, as it was 
not. Others of the family, reading her Memoirs, 
appear to have shared her sentiments. It is very 
doubtful. Her brother William — "best and dearest 
of brothers " — must have thought otherwise, when he 
allowed her music lessons to be hindered by marketing, 
incompetent servants, and other trifles. 

The story told by Herschel himself of his struggles 
in Bath and afterwards, if less racy, is certainly 
more wonderful. Encouragement he seems to have 
had from no one, not even from Caroline, who sub- 
mitted, not without grumbling, to his whims or 

He was pursuing his studies with a devotion which, 
to one who reads the papers he afterwards wrote, calls 
to mind the devotion of the patriarch in pursuit of his 
mistress's love. "In the day the drought consumed 
me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed 
from mine eyes." Most literally true was this as a 
picture of the astronomer's labours at Bath. "The 
tube of my seven-feet telescope is covered with ice " is 
his journal entry one autumn night. A month later he 
writes, " It freezes very hard, and the stars are very 
tremulous." Two months later, in midwinter, we read, 
" Not only my breath freezes upon the side of the tube, 
but more than once have I found my feet fastened to 
the ground, when I have looked long at the same star." 
On removing to Windsor, there was no falling away in 
his devotion to this imperious mistress. " At four o'clock 
in the morning," he writes on New Year's Day 1783, 
" my ink was frozen in the room ; and, about five o'clock, 
a twenty-feet speculum, in the tube, went off with a 


crack, and broke into two pieces. On looking at 
Fahrenheit's thermometer, I found it to stand at 11*"." 
And, in the height of summer that year, " the telescope 
ran with water all the night," that is, " the condensing 
moisture on the tube has been running down in 
streams." "The small speculum, which sometimes 
gathers moisture, was never affected in the 7-feet tube, 
but was a little so in the 20-feet. The large eye- 
glasses and object-glasses of the finders required 
wiping very often." Such were some of the discom- 
forts cheerfully undergone by this votary of science in 
pursuit of truth.^ 

Amid labours so continuous and so heavy it cannot 
occasion surprise that Caroline sometimes found relief 
in a fit of grumbling. When her brother was polishing 
a mirror, " by way of keeping him alive, she was con- 
stantly obliged to feed him by putting the victuals by 
bits into his mouth. This was once the case when, in 
order to finish a seven-foot mirror, he had not taken his 
hands from it for sixteen hours together." ^ The 
delicate lad, who, by his mother's address, escaped 
soldiering in 1757, had grown into a powerful athlete 
in 1772. This sometimes happens. Four years later 
he tried to improve on Newton's telescope by almost 
doubling the light let fall on the mirror at the bottom 
of the tube. He then experimented with a ten-feet 
reflector, but failed. He repeated the attempt with a 
twenty-feet in 1784, but again was disappointed : " it 
was too hastily laid aside." He succeeded shortly after, 
and found " it to be a very convenient and pleasant as 
well as useful way of observing " : it inverts the north 

^ Phil. Tram., 1803, pp. 216-19. 

^ Lalande told the some story in 1783. See Arago. 


and south, but not the preceding and following." ^ He 
called it the Front-view, meaning that he tilted the 
mirror a little at the bottom, and, dispensing with 
Newton's plane mirror at the object end, secured all 
the light he could. 

At that epoch in the world's history there was a 
singular upheaval of human thought and effort. In 
the years between 1760 and 1785 the world may be 
said to have witnessed more surprising changes than any 
it experienced since the revival of letters and the dis- 
covery of America. James Cook, aided by Joseph Banks 
and other men like himself, discovered new lands or 
new worlds of great extent and beauty in the bosom 
of the ocean ; William Herschel, as the famous astro- 
nomer Lalande expressed it, " displayed a new heaven 
to earth," and discovered seventy-five millions of sunny 
stars. James Watt had solved the problem of convert- 
ing the unruly giant of Steam into an obedient slave of 
man — the beginning of endless improvements in the 
bettering of man's lot. Gibbon had begun his Decline 
and FaU, Robertson was writing his Histories, and 
Hume was stirring the whole world of thought by the 
boldness and novelty of his ideas. Even in the political 
sphere that period was a seedtime fruitful of changes. 
The new world had changed hands. The Anglo-Saxon 
race and language had triumphed ; the future of North 
America at least was assured. So was the future of 
India to the same hardy stock. Voltaire and his 
fellow-workers were paving the way for the violent 
upheaval that soon came in Europe. Everywhere men 
were sowing the seeds of a harvest of progress and 
blessing, mixed and disfigured with many a root of 

^ PhU, Trans, for 1786, p. 499. 


bitterness. But among the purest and freest from vice 
of all the harvests reaped from the seedbed then tilled 
and sown, was that of William Herschel in his laborious 
study of the stars. It left no bitter weed behind it to 
poison or deface the riches of its harvest. 

Herschel was prospering in worldly circumstances 
amid this stress of effort and thought. He had learned 
also what a great poet expressed in words some years 
after: "The excellence of every art is its intensity, 
capable of making all disagreeables evaporate, from 
their being in relation with beauty and truth." ^ His 
intensity required more room for its exercise. He was 
realising, he was putting into practical form Laplace's 
idea of a philosopher as one " who, uniting to a fertile 
imagination a rigid severity in investigation and 
observation, is at once tormented by the desire of 
ascertaining the cause of the phenomena, and by the 
fear of deceiving himself in that which he assigns." ^ 
Accordingly, he first " moved to a larger house, which 
had a garden behind it, and open space down to the 
river." It should be a place of pilgrimage to astro- 
nomers, for there discoveries were made, and also what 
were thought to be famous discoveries, but were not, 
and there the mirror for a great telescope was fin- 
ished. Alone, without encouragement from the outside 
world of science, plunged in the depths of triflers' 
gay idleness, and sometimes subjected to the sharp 
tongue of his sister Caroline, this unwearied worker 
toiled on to his goal. He was determined to see what 
others had not seen, to know what others 'had not dis- 
covered. And he succeeded in reaching that goal. 

1 Eeats, Life, i. 92. 

' SyfAvm t^lhe World, ii. 810. 


When his sister expected him to cheer her lonely life 
by lesson or talk, he was so absorbed in work that he 
withdrew to his bedroom to study some favourite 
author, and fell asleep in the midst of his books. One 
of the favourite works she mentions was the Aatrorumiy 
of James Ferguson, published in 1756, the work of a 
self-taught Scottish peasant, whose proudest boast, had 
he lived to see the result, would have been that he did 
as much as any man, perhaps more, to start William 
Herschel on the path which led to results undreamed 
of in the history of science. And the book that 
Herschel thus fell asleep over was published anew by 
a famous man of science after Herschel's death, and 
was enriched with the multitudinous observations of the 
great astronomer. Master and pupil were embalmed 
together in that edition of the Astronomy, which can 
still bear comparison with any books of the kind that 
have been published, without coming out second best. 

But the time of revealing William Herschel to the 
world as a practical astronomer of the first rank was 
now at hand. That he was little known in Bath and 
its neighbourhood we might gather from the silence 
observed regarding him by Hannah More, whose sisters 
kept a girls* school in Bristol, where she also resided. 
She was a lover of astronomy, and in 1762 made the 
"acquaintance of Ferguson, the popular astronomer, 
then engaged at Bristol in giving public lectures — an 
acquaintance which soon ripened into friendship."^ 
But the girl who, as a woman of thirty-four, knew and 
recorded her impressions of Miss Linley, finds no place 
in either her Bristol or her London gossip for the far 
greater name of William Herschel, who conducted 

^ Life, etc., i. 16. 


oratorios even at Bristol, was a favourite at Court, 

and was famous throughout Europe. Truly it may be 

said to Herschel what the passing traveller said to 


"Nee quidquam tibi prodest 
Aerias tentasse domos animoque rotundum 
Percurrisae polum morituro." 

Still, there can be no doubt that his discoveries became 
the talk of London and the world. Perhaps, also, 
many a British patriot, in indignant condemnation 
of the folly and tyranny which alienated the United 
States of America from the parent stock, was echoing 
the words of Horace Walpole, "Mr. Herschel will 
content me if he can discover thirteen provinces," 
among his twenty millions of worlds, " well inhabited 
by men and women, and protected by the law of 
nations, and can annex them to the crown of Great 
Britain, in lieu of those it has lost beyond the 
Atlantic." ^ 

^ Letters, vi. 258. On Herschel's life in England, and especially in 
Batb, see Appendix. 



Herschel had been studying the stars with improved 
telescopes for upwards of four years before any of the 
literary and high-placed people, who flocked every 
winter to Bath, knew that a man of genius lived 
among them and was a servant to their gaiety or 
devotion. Beau Nash had been a better known figure 
in their streets, a more respected man among a com- 
munity of fops, idlers, and intriguers, and was deemed 
more worthy of a statue in their pump-room or their 
public park.^ The man among them, who was destined 
to write his name on the heavens and to live when 
triflers and fops were all forgotten, attended their 
church meetings as an organist, their concerts as a 
conductor, and their drawing-rooms as a teacher of 
music to them or their children. They had not dis- 
covered that, by the irony of fate, a genius, head and 
shoulders above them all, was toiling for bread one 
half of the year, and slaving for fame or the welfare 
of mankind for the other half. He was really running 
two races before their eyes at the same time, the 

^ '* At the east end of the saloon, a posthumous marble statue of the 
great Nash, executed by Prince Hoare, at the expense of the corpora- 
tion, is handsomely ensconced" (Granville (in 1889), Spcu o/JEnghmd, 

ii. 394). 



indispensable race for bread along one course, which 
they all saw and had little or no sympathy with, 
and the unquenchable race for fame along another 
totally unlike, to which they were altogether in- 
different. To run both races at the same time required 
a spirit of indomitable energy and perseverance. 

In the world of literature and science it is not 
unfrequently the hard fate of genius to be passed by 
in the crowd, till some onlooker discovers it, as a 
diamond may be discovered among a heap of common 
stones on the roadside. The fire of genuine inspira- 
tion may have warmed the heart or lighted up the 
eye ; but, until the onlooker, long waited for, it may 
be, goes past, no difference will be seen between a 
genius and other men by the ordinary crowd of 

Ministers of state, heads of political parties, busy- 
bodies filled with national affairs were seen, recognised, 
or pointed out in carriages or places of public resort 
by those who enjoyed or were compelled by doctors' 
orders to endure the weariness of the place.^ But 
" there are forty thousand others that I neither know 
nor intend to know," Walpole wrote : " in short, it is 
living in a fair, and I am heartily sick of it already." 
In the very year in which these words were written, 
Herschel was settled at Bath. He was one of the 
forty thousand nobodies, but Walpole was compelled 
in good time to reckon him a power in the world ; 
he was only a poor player in the world s fair at 

Court ladies and people of distinction knew William 
Herschel at Bath. They patronised him and his sister, 

^ See Walpole's LetUrsfrom Bath, v. 160, Oct. 2, 1766. 


got him pupils, and did what they could for him in the 
race for bread. But they had no idea that he was at 
the same time running a race for fame, or, to speak 
more correctly, was preparing to step into that arena. 
They would have smiled an incredulous smile had 
anyone said so to them. A music master and a 
director of concerts they could understand and ap- 
preciate as an inferior creature ; but a man who 
pottered about reflectors and refractors, and looked at 
the moon from a back garden or a street, when the rest 
of the world had gone to bed, was beyond their com- 
prehension, or probably came in for their pity. And 
yet it was on a street, and late at night, that the genius 
of Herschel was discovered by an inhabitant of Bath, 
a perfect stranger to him and his scientific pursuits. 
So curious is the romance of the discovery that it is 
best told in Herschel's own words. 

"About the latter end of this month [December 
1779] I happened to be engaged in a series of obser- 
vations on the lunar mountains, and the moon being 
in front of my house, late in the evening I brought my 
seven-feet reflector into the street, and directed it to 
the object of my observations. Whilst I was looking 
into the telescope, a gentleman coming by the place 
where I was stationed, stopped to look at the instru- 
ment. When I took my eye off the telescope, he very 
politely asked if he might be permitted to look in, 
and this being immediately conceded, he expressed 
great satisfaction at the view. Next morning the 
gentleman, who proved to be Dr. Watson, jun. (now 
Sir William), called at my house to thank me for my 
civility in showing him the moon, and told me that 
there was a Literary Society then forming at Bath, 


and invited me to become a member of it, to which I 
readily consented." The house in front of which this 
discovery of an astronomer was made, was in River 
Street,^ and the discoverer of Herschel was Dr. Watson, 
a distinguished Fellow of the Royal Society of Lon- 
don,2 and a man of whom Herschel afterwards spoke 
in his printed papers with the highest respect and 

A look through a telescope in a street-observatory 
was not uncommon then even for a rising philosopher. 
As Humphry Davy " was passing through the streets 
one fine night, he observed a man showing the moon 
through a telescope. He stopped to look at the earth's 
satellite, and tendered a penny to the exhibitor. But 
the latter, on learning that his customer was no less 
a person than the great Davy, exclaimed with an 
important air, that * he could not think of taking 
money from a brother-philosopher.' " 

Dr. Watson and his father, Sir William Watson, 
were well-known members of the Royal Society. 
To the father in 1745 was awarded the Copley 
Medal for "surprising discoveries in electricity, 
exhibited in his late experiments." His portrait also 
is one of those in the Royal Society's keeping. The 
son became a Fellow in 1770. Like his father, he 
had a leaning towards the study of electricity. In 
1756, when the Society honoured itself by electing 
Benjamin Franklin, "although not an inhabitant of 
this island," a Fellow, the certificate recommending 
that this be done was signed by the President and 

^ He soon afterwards remoyed to 19 New King Street. 
' Dr. Watson seems to have done a similar kindness to others. See 
Annual Begister for 1788 [68-60]. 


seven others, of whom W. Watson, the father, was 
one. In 1762, Dr. Watson in a letter to the First Lord 
of the Admiralty ^ recommended that the navy should 
be supplied with lightning-conductors of a pattern 
he devised. The ships were furnished with them, 
but they were not a success, and sixty years elapsed 
before conductors of a suitable construction were 
fastened to the masts. Long before then the danger 
of powder magazines on land from lightning had 
been recognised and provided for, but not without 
something like civil war among the Fellows of the 
Royal Society. A committee, of which Franklin and 
Dr. Watson were members, reported strongly in favour 
of pointed conductors for the powder magazines at 
Purfleet. One member not only dissented, but formed 
a party, who wrote and acted in favour of blunt and 
against pointed conductors. Again a committee was 
appointed, of which Dr. Watson was a member, to 
put the matter to the test of experiment. Their 
conclusion was the same as before. Unfortunately, 
this was in 1777, at the height of the war with the 
American colonies. Party politics were at once 
dragged in to decide a purely scientific question. 
Franklin was in favour of the lightning-rods ending 
in points. Philadelphia also had been provided with 
them, and "not a single instance" of mischief from 
the severe thunderstorms experienced in that city 
had happened. That was enough with foolish people 
to condemn points and favour blunts. The Royal 
Society decided for points; all who voted on that 
side were counted friends of the American rebels, as 
the phrase then went. King George iii. took the side 

1 Lord Anson {Phil, Tram,, Dec. 16, 1762). 


of the hlvmts. When Franklin was informed of 
the King's action, he wrote from France: "The 
King's changing his pointed conductors for blunt 
ones is a matter of small importance to me. • . . For 
it is only since he thought himself and family safe 
from the thunder of Heaven that he dared to use 
his own thunder in destroying his own subjects." 
But George ill. went further. He even endeavoured 
to make the Royal Society rescind their decision in 
favour of points. Sir John Pringle, the President, — 
a man who had been Professor of Moral Philosophy 
in Edinburgh, who was physician-extraordinary to 
the King and Queen, vir illustris de omnibus bonis 
artibus bene Toeritus, — when urged to use his influence 
against points and for blunts, manfully replied, " Sire, 
I cannot reverse the laws and operations of nature." 
A late ^ addition to the story is that the King replied, 
"Perhaps, Sir John, you had better resign." That 
he did resign and withdraw to Edinburgh a year 
afterward, is certain: whether points and blunts 
had any influence in causing him to take that step is 
uncertain, but it can scarcely be doubted that the 
King's interference in a scientific quarrel had some- 
thing to do with the censure passed on his generosity 
by Dr. Watson, the son, four years afterwarda* 

1 In 1820. 

' Sir John, after his return from Edinburgh to London in 1781, had 
the pleasure of spending a couple of hours on week-nights at a society 
of which he had been for many years a member, and where he met 
**with such friends as Mr. Cavendish, Dr. Heberden, and Dr. Watson." 
It was at one of these meetings that Sir John, on the 14th of January 
1782, was seized with a fit from which he never recovered. In August 
of that year, with his friend's death still fresh in his thoughts, Dr. 
Watson gave expression to his sentiments regarding the King's 
shabbiness {Annviu Register, 1783 [45]). 


Possibly, Dr. Watson shared the opinion of Franklin's 
friend, who wrote the epigram — 

"While you, great George, for knowledge hunt, 
And sharp conductors change for blunt, 

The nation's out of joint : 
Franklin a wiser course pursues, 
And all your thunder useless views 

By keeping to the point." ^ 

Dr. Watson's discovery soon bore fruit. Herschel 
had been carefully studying the planet Saturn since 
the spring of 1774. He had also been observing 
the mountains on the moon's face and making calcu- 
lations of their height. Besides, he had been watching 
a variable star in the neck of the constellation called 
The Whale. Four months after his introduction to 
Dr. Watson, he communicated to the Royal Society 
through him two papers, which were read on May 11, 
1780, and modestly described as by Mr. William 
Herschel of Bath. The first of the two was " On the 
Periodical Star in Collo CetiJ' The paper in itself was 
not of much consequence, and it was on an old and 
well-worn subject;^ but it showed the books which 
had influenced him in his astronomical studies, as his 
sister had found by experience, and the carefulness 
with which he had for years been making observa- 
tions on the stars. He had no desire to be considered 
an amateur. He was in thorough earnest, keeping a 
journal of what he saw in the skies, and carefully 
noting every change for future reference. On this 
Stella Mira, or Wonderful Star, as it was called from 
the " surprising appearances " it was known to present, 

1 Weld, Hist, of the RoyaZ Society, ii. 7, 94-101, 392. 
s See Lalande, i. 814 (edition 1771). 


and the changes it was found to undergo in 333 or 
334 days, he made at least fourteen separate obser- 
vations and measurements between October 20, 1777, 
and February 7, 1780. He was only feeling his way 
as a recorder of what he saw in the heavens. It 
was but a beginning, and he was forty-two years of 

To do justice to this eager lover of nature, the 
object which he had in view when he began to make 
telescopes for himself, should not be forgotten. He 
wanted to see with his own eyes what others had 
seen in the heavens, he hoped to see more than they 
had seen, and at last he determined to build an 
instrument of such power as should penetrate the 
depths of space far beyond the boundaries man had 
at that time attained. His purpose was to see the 
heavens as the telescope had revealed them to the 
eyes of ' others ; it was not to be an assistant in an 
observatory such as Greenwich, content to discharge 
the routine work of each day, or perhaps of each 
night A telescope, a most powerful telescope, was 
the purpose deeply rooted in his mind ; it was 
not to improve the instruments then in use, nor to 
systematise the work done in observatories. Perhaps 
he had a large share in doing both. He read the 
scientific world a lesson on the necessity of all-night as 
well as all-day work, which they stood much in need 
of learning. Great and valuable as was the work 
done at Greenwich then and previously, it was done at 
small expense to the nation. An astronomer-royal 
at £300 a year, an assistant at £70, and a kitchen- 
garden was the kailyard policy pursued by our 
country up to 1811. Remonstrances were presented 


to the Government of the day. The salary was then 
doubled, " thirty chaldrons of coals and one hundred 
pounds of wax candles" were asked for, and the 
enclosing of the kitchen - garden ! Evidently the 
official mind had not grasped the idea that the 
astronomer - royal was no longer a fortune-telling 
interpreter of the heavens, as Kepler had been forced 
to become for bread! With one assistant all-night 
work was barely possible ! ^ The instruments in use 
may be judged of from " An Account of the Equatorial 
Instrument," or " mural quadrant," given to the Royal 
Society in 1793, twenty years after Herschel began 
his labours. The precision of observation among 
the ancients could not be trusted to within from five 
to ten minutes. Tycho Brahe reduced the probable 
limit of error to within one minute. Hevelius in the 
following century brought it down to fiften or twenty 
seconds, and in the century after it was reduced to seven 
or eight seconds.^ To entitle observations to any 
credit it was then felt that a probable error of more 
than a few seconds could not be admitted — or perhaps 
only a hundredth part of the errors unavoidable in 
the days of Hipparchus. In 1827, Sir John Herschel 
was able to say that he had " secured such a degree of 
precision that the stars cross the wire often on the 
very beat of the chronometer when they are expected." 
Clocks, transit-instruments, mural-circles may be said 
to have been in their infancy when Herschel began 
his work. He did not propose to work or measure 
with these as men do in an observatory. He was 
eager to see with a telescope; but he soon found 
that, if he was to do any good, he would require to 

1 Weld, ii. 250. « Ph4Z. Trans, for 1798. 


observe and measure as well. He was one of a race of 
working astronomers of whom England had cause to 
be proud. They might be called, but they were not 

The second paper, read the same day, and headed 
" Astronomical Observations relating to the Mountains 
of the Moon," was more ambitious, and formed a better 
prelude to the path of discovery, on which Herschel 
would soon enter. He begins with an apology for 
attempting to ascertain the height of the lunar moun- 
tains, but a "knowledge of the construction of the 
moon leads us insensibly to several consequences, 
which might not appear at first; such as the great 
probability, not to say almost absolute certainty, of 
her being inhabited." He is equally certain that 
the moon rejoices in an atmosphere like the earth's.^ 
Passing over this scientific faith, in the meantime, 
as a heritage he received from the past but had not 
examined, we find him boldly venturing to dispute 
the conclusions arrived at by Galileo, Hevelius, and 
others of great name. Galileo had made the lunar 
mountains higher than any then known on the earth, 
five and a half miles; but Hevelius reduced this 

^ In 1762, Samuel Dunn, from *'a nice examination of the two ends 
of Saturn's ring, at such time when the planet is on the dark edge 
of the moon,'* came to the conclusion "that this diversity of appear- 
ance must have arisen from the effects of an atmosphere of the moon." 
Previously, he states, the existence of an atmosphere was much de- 
bated, and is "still undecided " (Fhil. Trans, for 1761-2, vol. lii. p. 680). 

In a paper read before the Royal Society on November 27, 1766, 
the Prince de Croy expresses doubts about the existence of a lunar 
atmosphere, but "I am inclined to believe," he says, "there is no 
water in the moon." He also states that the hollows between the 
mountains marked on his diagram are surprising on account of their 


estimate to about three miles and a quarter. Herschel 
attacked the problem, armed with a telescope of six 
feet eight inches focal length, which he speaks of as 
" a very excellent instrument, equal to any that was 
ever made." He brought to it also the same " uncom- 
mon diligence and attention," which made up in some 
measure for the imperfect instruments of previous 
astronomers; and he had confidence in himself, in 
his eyesight, and in the goodness of the work he had 

He was struck by the "deep shadows" cast by 
mountains on the moon's surface. Probably these 
shadows were then a puzzle to him. But he made 
one sagacious observation, which subsequent observers 
have developed into a view of the moon's face alto- 
gether different from what he started with. On Mona 
Lacer he writes : " I am almost certain there are two 
very considerable cavities or places where the ground 
descends below the level of the convexity, just before 
these mountains." The moon's face is now known to 
be pitted with hollows of great extent and depth. 
Herschel's predecessors called them seas and oceans, 
of which there are none on the moon. The hills and 
mountains that rise from these vast cavities do not at 
the utmost greatly exceed the estimate come to by 
Herschel, a mile and a half, or a mile and three- 
quarters in height. But if the height be reckoned 
above the hollow from which they rise, it may be 
nearer three times as much. We count the heights of 
mountains on the earth from the level of the sea. If 
we reckoned from the bottom of the ocean, our moun- 
tains will be found considerably to exceed in height 
those of the moon. It is now known that these 


cavities in the moon are from ten to seventeen 
thousand feet in depth, that they are surrounded by 
a great rampart or wall, a hundred, two hundred, or 
two hundred and fifty miles round, and that the 
mountains which rise from the floor of the cavity 
may be about a mile or a mile and a half high.^ 

His study of the moon's face led him, two years after, 
to believe that, from his far-off station near Windsor, 
to which he had then removed from Bath, he was 
looking down one night into the depths of the boiling 
crater of a volcano in the moon. A discovery so 
singular was not a thing to publish till he had full 
assurance of its accuracy. Four years after, he be- 
lieved he had obtained evidence sufficient to warrant 
publication. Others, well qualified to judge, were of 
the same opinion. Among them was a gentleman 
from the Gottingen Society, to which Herschel the 
year before had taken the King's present of a 10-feet 
reflector. Writing to a friend in Paris, that gentle- 
man says : — 

"May BO. 

" Sir, — Mr. Herschel has lately made a discovery of 
the greatest consequence, of which I have had the good 
fortune to be an eye-witness. He had observed last 
month, one or two days after the new moon, in the 
dark part of it, three luminous points. Two of these 

^ Moretus is a circular depression 120 kilometres across (80 miles), 
with an isolated mountain in the centre of nearly 7000 feet in height, 
the most considerable of its kind on the moon {Atlas Photographique 
de la LuTie, Paris 1898, c. 56). The depths of the cavities are frequently 
very great, Tyoho, for example, 5500 metres, or nearly 18,000 feet 
(c. 80, c. 55). Some of the mountain masses or tablelands are 5000 
metres, 6600, and 7100, judging from the shadows they oast, or 16,000, 
21,000, or 28,000 feet (c. 55, 56). 


points were near each other, and their light was pale 
and weak. The third, which he judged to be about 
three English miles in diameter, exhibited a much 
stronger and a redder light. This he compared to a 
burning coal covered with ashes. These points he 
immediately conceived to be burning mountains, the 
two first being either nearly extinguished or beginning 
to bum, and the other in a state of actual eruptioa 
Mr. Herschel did not fail to communicate his observa- 
tion to the Royal Society ; and the philosophers in this 
metropolis waited impatiently for the next new moon, 
which would necessarily confirm the observation, be- 
cause the eruption would probably not continue above 
a month, and consequently the phenomena would be 
then very different, if Mr. Herschel's conjecture was 
well founded. Friday last, the 18th, the first day of 
the new moon, several philosophical gentlemen attended 
Mr. Herschel at his house in the country; but the 
weather was too cloudy to permit any observation. 
The next day I did myself the honour to visit him, 
with two of my friends. Fortunately, the sky was 
perfectly clear. After having examined, during two 
hours, the enlightened part of the moon, by means of 
Mr. Herschel's astonishing instruments, of which it is 
impossible to form an adequate idea without having 
seen them, we directed the telescope to the dark part 
of this satellite, and the conjecture of this great 
astronomer was instantly confirmed. The two first- 
mentioned luminous points had totally disappeared, 
and the fire of the other was become pale and weak. 
The diameter of its crater was increased to about six 
miles. Next month it will probably be entirely in- 
visible. This discovery of volcanoes in the moon is a 


proof that the matter of which it is composed is similar 
to that of our earth, and also proves the existence of 
a lunar atmosphere, which some philosophers have 
doubted. The science of astronomy is therefore in- 
finitely indebted to the zeal of Mr. Herschel. 

" This phenomenon was also seen by Count Bruhl, 
Mr. Cavendish, Mr. Aubert, etc. — Yours, etc., Z. Z." ^ 

Lalande, of the Royal College of France, told a 
somewhat more wonderful story to the scientific world 
in a paper which he wrote for the Academy of Dijon. 
" Herschel," he says, " has seen in the moon two peaks 
or mountains formed almost before his eyes ; there are 
in their neighbourhood certain currents resembling 
those torrents of lava that flow from a volcano at the 
time of its greatest eruption. This observation was 
confirmed by an actual eruption very visible in his 
telescope of 9 feet : it is a fire or light like that of a 
star of the fourth magnitude seen by the naked eye, 
and it appeared on the obscure part of the moon. This 
may help to explain the observation of Ulloa, who, in 
the total eclipse of 1783, saw in the middle of the 
moon a luminous point, which he conjectured to be a 
perforation." Alas for the astronomers who probably 
saw what they devoutly wished to see — a volcano in 
action on the moon ! It was all moonshine, apparently 
a reflection of light from our earth, when sixteen times 
the amount of light showered on us at full moon is 
then thrown by us on her ! But a hole through the 
middle of the moon, perhaps twenty miles round ! 
There is no air that we know of on the half of the 
moon that we see, and there is no water. There are 

^ Scots Magazine^ toI. zliz. 818, quoted from Oe/wUemarCs Magcaitu, 


ample traces of volcanic fires that once lighted her 
surface, but they are all long gone out, and have left 
nothing behind for us but insoluble problems and 
mysterious wonders — a world of craters, lava, preci- 
pices, and cinders. That astronomers were mistaken 
was no discredit to them. They stumbled in the race 
for knowledge. That was all. If the reports of 
moving masses, still said to be seen in the moon, be 
confirmed, there may not have been much of a stumble 
after alL 

While the observatories of Europe took a serious 
view of these volcanoes and lava rivers in the moon, 
the wits of London, and the King's equerries at 
Windsor, were making fun of the whole thing, and 
turning the batteries of ridicule on William Herschel. 
Tea in the room of the wardrobe ladies at Windsor 
Castle, especially with Mr. Bryant, the antiquary and 
author in the company, " was extremely pleasant." 
It was always antiquities or odd accidents with him : 
" This night, Dr. Herschel and his newly discovered 
volcanoes in the moon came in for their share." Next 
evening three equerry colonels were at table. The 
volcanoes again came into the eyes or lips of some of 
the party. " I don't give up to Dr. Herschel at all," 
cried Colonel Manners ; " he is all system, and so they 
are all ; and if they can but make out their systems 
they don't care a pin for anything else. As to 
Herschel, I liked him well enough till he came to his 
volcanoes in the moon, and then I gave him up: I 
saw he was just like the rest. How should he know 
anything of the matter ? There's no such thing as 
pretending to measure at such a distance as that" 
The company sat silent while this outburst of lava. 


which was at once both right and absurdly wrong, 
was coursing along the table. The lava had cooled, its 
heat was forgotten, when Colonel Welbred quietly 
interjected, "Sir Isaac Newton had been as much 
scoffed and laughed at formerly as Herschel was 
now ; but, in return, Herschel, hereafter, would be as 
highly reverenced as Sir Isaac was at present." To 
it they again set. Someone remarked that " upon the 
heat in the air being mentioned to Dr. Heberden, he 
had answered that he supposed it proceeded from the 
last eruption in the volcano in the moon." " Ay," cried 
Colonel Manners, " I suppose he knows as much of the 
matter as the rest of them ; if you put a candle at the 
end of a telescope, and let him look at it, he'll say, 
What an eruption there is in the moon ! " 

" But Mr. Bryant himself has seen this volcano from 
the telescope." 

" Why, I don't mind Mr. Bryant any more than Dr. 
Heberden ; he's just as credulous as t'other." 

And thus the equerries wrangled at Windsor, while 
the rest of the world wondered or laughed at these 
volcanoes in the moon.^ 

Herschel's belief in an atmosphere of the moon was 
a heritage, a traditional heritage from the past. Had 
he fully examined the grounds on which the tradition 
was based, he would have opened a field of inquiry 
that remained closed for nearly a century and a half. 
In the total eclipse of the sun which happened in 
Switzerland on the 12th of May 1706, the red flames 
and the corona, features of an eclipse now known to 
everybody, were observed, apparently for the first 
time. Captain Stannyan, who was at Berne with the 

^ Miss Barney, Letters, In, 87&->380. 


British Envoy, wrote that very day: "The sun was 
totally darkened for 4 J minutes of time ; a fixed star 
and a planet appeared very bright; and his getting 
(mt of the eclipse was preceded by a blood-red streak 
of light, from its left limb; which continued not 
longer than 6 or 7 seconds of time;^ then part of 
the sun's disk appeared, all of a sudden, bright as 
Venus was ever seen in the night ; nay, brighter, and 
in that very instant gave a light and shadow to things, 
as strong as moonlight uses to do." Flamsteed adds 
his own comment on this strange story : " The Captain 
is set down as the first man ever heard of that took 
notice of a red streak of light preceding the emersion 
of the sun's body from a total eclipse. And I take 
notice of it to you, because it infers that the moon 
has an atmosphere; and its short continuance of 
only 6 or 7 seconds of time, tells us that its height 
is not more than the 5 or 6 hund/redth part of her 
diameter,'^ that is, about four miles. 

At Geneva the same eclipse was viewed by a friend 
of Sir Isaac Newton, Facio Duillier, who, apparently, 
did not see the " blood-red streak," but gives a good 
description of the Crown, or as it is now called, the 
Corona. "The clouds," he says, "did change of a 
sudden their colour, and became red, and then of a 
paJe violet. There was seen, during the whole time 
of the total immersion, a whiteness, which did seem 
to break out from behind the moon, and to encom- 
pass it on all sides equally. The same whiteness was 
but little determined, in its outward side, and was 

' In the total eclipse of the present year there was seen "a brilliant 
display of carmine-coloured prominences extending over an arc of at 
least 60 deg." (TVmea, June 1, 1900, p. 10). 


not broad the twelfth part of the diameter of the moon. 
This planet did appear very black, and her disk very 
well defined, within the whiteness, which encompassed 
it about, and whose colour was the same with that of 
a white crown or lioblo, of about four or five degrees 
in diameter, which accompanied it, and had the moon 
for its centre. ... A little time after the sun had 
began to appear again, the whiteness and the crown, 
which did encompass the moon, did entirely vanish." ^ 
Duillier's comment on this description of the corona is : 
" The moon's atmosphere cannot well be supposed less 
than of 130 miles, in perpendicular height. . . . Though 
it was very plain that the atmosphere of the moon 
must needs show itself, in the time of a total eclipse 
of the sun; yet I do not know that anybody did 
think of this, till in the last month of May, many 
persons did actually see it." ' 

At Zurich Dr. Scheuchzer, in four lines of Latin, 
describes how they had a solar eclipse, at once total 
and annular; total, because the sun was wholly 
covered by the moon ; annular, not properly so called, 
but by refraction, since around the moon appeared a 
ruddy brightness {f vigor rutUans), caused by rays 
refracted through the moon's atmosphere. 

The blood-red streak, the corona, the ruddy bright- 
ness observed during the total eclipse of 1706, the 

^ A letter from a friend at Marseilles informed Duillier that, during 
totality, "there did remain one bright digit, all about the globe of the 
moon" {Phil, Tram. (No. 306), p. 2237). 

3 ''The red prominences were first seen during the solar eclipse of 
8th July 1842 " (Proctor, Mcye, BrU, vol. ii. p. 788). Baily was not 
the first to see them. Oaptain Stannyan and Dr. Scheuchzer carried off 
the honour 136 years earlier. Facio Duillier has the credit of first 
describing the corona. 


doubts about the moon's atmosphere, and the difficulties 
experienced in accounting for the crown, "or else 
concerning a meteor observed, not in our air, but in 
the vapours that encompass the sun," might have 
warned Dr. Halley and others to be especially watchful 
when a total eclipse was due in Britain on April 22, 
1715. Halley admitted the points named to be " very 
singular, and deserving a great deal of attention." He 
believed that a total eclipse of the sun had not been 
seen in London since March 20, 1140 A.D. He passes 
a gentle censure on the French astronomers for their 
indifference to the total eclipse of 1706, but excuses 
them on the ground that it was the first which " had 
been observed with the attention the dignity of the 
phenomenon requires." Strange to say, he made no 
preparation to watch for " the blood-streak " and " the 
luminous ring" that crowned the black body of the 
moon, when the chance of seeing them again was 
presented in 1715. They were seen and described by 
him with a singular turning aside from facts to fables 
about the moon's atmosphere, and the vapours that 
were raised or the dews that fell on her surface. 
Here is the account Halley gives of the red clouds 
and the luminous ring in the eclipse of 1715:^ — 

"A few seconds before the sun was all hid, there 
discovered itself round the moon a luminous ring, 
about a digit, or perhaps a tenth part of the moon's 
diameter in breadth. It was of a pale whiteness or 
rather pearl colour, seeming to me a little tinged with 
the colours of the Iris, and to be concentric with the 
moon, whence I concluded it the moon's atmosphere. 
But the great height thereof far exceeding that of our 

"Dews," Phil, Trans, xxix. p. 248. 


earth's atmosphere ; and the observations of some, who 
found the breadth of the ring to increase on the west 
side of the moon as the emersion approached, together 
with the contrary sentiments of those whose judg- 
ment I shall always revere, makes me less confident, 
especially in a matter whereto I own I gave not all 
the attention requisite. 

" Whatever it was, this ring appeared much brighter 
and whiter near the body of the moon than at a 
distance from it ; and its outward circumference, 
which was ill defined, seemed terminated only by 
the extreme rarity of the matter it was composed 
of ; and in all respects resembled the appearance of an 
enlightened atmosphere viewed from far ; but whether 
it belonged to the sun or moon I shall not at present 
undertake to decide. 

" During the whole time of the total eclipse I kept 
my telescope constantly fixed on the moon, in order to 
observe what might occur in this uncommon appear- 
ance : and I found that there were perpetual flashes or 
coruscations of light, which seemed for a moment to 
dart out from behind the moon, now here, now there, 
on all sides ; but more especially on the western side 
before the emersion ; and about two or three seconds 
before it, on the same western side where the sun was 
just coming out, a long and very narrow streak of a 
dusky but strong red light seeemed to colour the dark 
edge of the moon; though nothing like it had been 
seen immediately after the immersion. But this 
' , antly vanished upon the first appearance of the 
theirs did also the aforesaid luminous ring."^ 

^® ^'.he eclipse of July 7 (8), 1842, BaUy writes : " The breadth of the 
aescno ^^ ^.^^ circumference of the moon was nearly equal to half of 


Halley adds to this beautiful description that the 
darkness was " more perfect," and the stars seen were 
more numerous, in some places than in others; but 
"the light of the ring was to all alike." From the 
north of England, too, he heard "that the luminous 
ring round the moon was seen there, which waa 
nowhere visible but while the eclipse was total"! 
Nine years before Halley conjectured that the cause 
of the corona or ring lay, "probably, in those very 
vapours, which produce that pointed light, that has 
been observed lying in a manner along the ecliptic, 
and that has the sun for centre," the zodiacal light. 

Into this traditional heritage of a lunar atmosphere 
Herschel passed, till the blindness of unreasoning 
belief was dispelled by facts. His atmosphere of the 
moon, his three volcanoes on its surface, and its fitness 
as a home for life, similar to what exists on the earth, 
were long cherished beliefs, that had all to be xm- 
leamed. Had the knowledge acquired from the total 
eclipses of the sun in 1706 and 1715 niot been laid on 
the shelf and forgotten, he would not have fallen into 
these mistakes. Unfortunately, though twenty-eight 
solar eclipses occur every eighteen years somewhere on 
earth, no total eclipse has been seen from our island 
since 1716. A few years passed away, and, in 1792, 
Herschel came to the conclusion that we " have great 
reason to surmise that the moon's atmosphere," as well 
as that of Saturn's fifth satellite, is " extremely rare." 

the moon's diameter. Its colour was quite white, not pearl colour, nor 
yellow, nor red, and the rays had a vivid and flickering appearance, 
somewhat like that which a gas-light illumination might be supposed 
to assume if formed into a similar shape " {Astron. Trans, xv. p. 5). 

Halley 's account of what he saw in 1715 is as distinct and vivid as 
that of BaUy in 1842. See also Lalande, ii. 443. 




The third paper sent by Hersehel to the Royal Society 
was in the form of a letter to Dr. Watson from Mr. 
William Hersehel of Bath, dated October 18, 1780. 
It was a record of observations made in the three 
years from 1777 to 1779, with the view of determining 
whether our day is of the same length year after year. 
A point so diflicult could be settled, he thought, only 
by observing the length of the day in other planets. 
This had been done, or attempted, for Venus and 
Jupiter, by watching the time it took for a spot on 
the face of the planet to return to the same position. 
But in Venus, on account of her exceeding brilliance, 
it had been done so imperfectly that her day was put 
down roughly as of 23 hours' length. For Jupiter 
the time of rotation on his axis was set down more 
precisely at 9 hours 56 minutes, a result arrived at 
by keeping careful watch on spots that may not be 
fixed points on his disc, but movable on what we may 
call trade- wind belts of clouds in his equator. These 
spots "change so often that it is not easy, if at all 
possible, to ascertain the identity of the same appear- 
ance for any considerable length of time." Sometimes 
a bright, at other times a dark spot, or belt, was 
observed, but the time of its revolution round the 



planet varied so much that no reliance could be placed 
on the result as a means of ascertaining whether our 
day remains the same from age to age. 

Herschel considered the planet Mars a more favour- 
able field for experiment than Jupiter. On Mars he 
saw spots of a different nature : " Their constant and 
determined shape, as well as remarkable colour, show 
them to be permanent and fastened to the body of 
the planet. These will give the revolution of his 
equator to a great certainty, and by a great number 
of revolutions, to a very great exactness also." A 
circumstance, with which Herschel was not acquainted, 
materially helped him in his observations on Mars. 
The atmosphere on that planet is not nearly so dense 
as the earth's, and similar trade-wind belts to those 
on Jupiter do not seem to exist. By these means he 
concluded that the length of a day on Mars is a little 
longer than our day, or 24 hrs. 39 min. 5 sec.^ The 
value of an accurate measure of the length of day 
in other planets he conceived to be this: "Future 
astronomers may be enabled to make some estimate 
of the general equability of the rotatory motions of 
the planets. For if in length of time they should 
perceive some small retardation in the diurnal motion 
of a planet, occasioned by some resistance of a very 
subtle medium in which the heavenly bodies perhaps 
move, or, on the other hand, if there should be found 
an acceleration from some cause or other, they might 
then ascribe the alteration either to the diurnal motion 
of the earth, or to the gyration of the other planet, 
according as circumstances, or observed phenomena, 

^ Time of rotation determined since Herschel's days, 24 hrs. 37 min. 
227 sees. 


should make one or the other of these opinions most 
probable." This man could think, could reason and 
observe : he had also unusual powers of imagination : 
but he was only beginning his travels through the 
infinitudes of space and time. 

Three papers for the Royal Society in the course 
of ten months! The musician of Bath puts himself 
at once on a level with the first men of science in 
the kingdom. He is modest, but he has in him the 
confidence of true genius. In his retirement he had 
been collecting facts from the heavens for six or seven 
years. A chance of speaking out what he saw and 
had gathered together was presented to him. He 
seized it with all eagerness, and was making his voice 
heard. In these papers he has been speaking to the 
Royal Society, of which he was not even a member. 
When he speaks next, about three months after, it is 
not as the musician of Bathj but as a member of the 
Royal Society ; and he speaks to the whole world and 
to all time. This paper, which was read on April 26, 
1781, and,is headed "Account of a Comet," was really 
the beginning of modem astronomy. It fills only ten 
pages of the Transactions, 

He had been engaged for some time in an attempt, 
not altogether novel, but certainly demanding great 
labour, to find out the distance of the fixed stars. 
His thoughts and plans were high, for though 
more than a century has passed since then, the dis- 
tances of not more than twenty or thirty out of 
many millions can be said to be known, or perhaps 
safely guessed. While thus engaged, rummaging 
among the stars, "on Tuesday, 13th March, between 
ten and eleven in the evening, he perceived a star, in 


the neighbourhood of H Oeminorum, that appeared 
visibly larger than the rest. Being struck with its 
uncommon magnitude, he compared it to H Qemin- 
orum and the small star in the quartile between 
Auriga and Gemini, and finding it so much larger 
than either of them, suspected it to be a comet. . . . 
The sequel has shown that my surmises were well 
founded, this proving to be the comet we have lately 
observed." By the method he followed he was "en- 
abled to distinguish the quantity and direction of the 
motion of this comet in a single day, to a much 
greater degree of exactness than could have been done 
in so short a time by a sector or transit instrument ; 
nay, even an hour or two were intervals long enough 
to show that it was a moving body, and, consequently, 
had its size not pointed it out as a comet, the change 
of place, though so trifling as 2^ seconds per hour, 
would have been sufficient to occasion the discovery." 
Satisfied that he had done all he could do, Herschel 
concluded his paper by saying, " I failed not to give 
immediate notice of this moving star, and was happy 
to surrender it to the care of the Astronomer-Royal 
and others, as soon as I found they had begun their 
observations upon it" The moving star was not a 
comet. It was a wanderer, who had been seen before 
and classified as a fixed star. The planet was what 
is now called Uranus. 

The announcement of the discovery sent a flutter 
of excitement through all the observatories of Europe, 
which went on increasing when it was found that 
they could not agree on what or who the stranger was. 
Almost from its first appearance English astronomers 
believed it to be a planet that had long been wanted 


to account for difficulties in their art. The French 
astronomers held to their faith in a comet moving 
round the sun in an orbit nearly circular. Herschel, 
praised everywhere as an observer " of great ardour 
and ingenuity," stood aside from the friendly strife. 
All observers were in debt to Bode, who found that 
a star, marked No. 964 in Mayer's catalogue, had been 
observed by him in 1756, had then been lost sight of, 
and was probably the stranger. Abb6 Boscovich is 
said to have been the first to prove that the orbit 
was an ellipse ; but to Lexell, Professor of Astronomy 
at St. Petersburg, is assigned the honour of showing 
that the newly found body was not a comet, but a 
planet, distant from the sun about nineteen times as 
far as the earth.^ All with a name for science, from 
Laplace downward, took part in the friendly strife. 

It has been said that this discovery was an accident ; 
it has been also said that, if Herschel had not made 
it at the time he did, some other observer would before 
long have had the luck to fall in with the stranger. 
These criticisms are not creditable to those by whom 
they were made. Call it accident or chance, the fact 
remains that this novice, looking out for what he 
could find in the heavens, and with instruments im- 
proved by himself, discovered an unknown planet, and 
extended the boundaries of the solar system to twice 
the distance that had been received for thousands of 
years. Such accidents bring fame, and are only called 
luck by the envioua 

One of the last-found planets of our solar system 
was discovered about a year ago, also by accident, but 
to the great honour of the discoverer. He was looking 

1 Kobison, Edin., Phil. Trans, i. 805. 


for something else; he found what he was looking 
for, and a new planet besides. What he was looking 
for was one of the so-called nuisances of the heavens, 
an asteroid, one of about 450, named 433**. To search 
for it as Herschel had to do, even though its where- 
abouts was known, called for labour and time. The 
astronomer, who was on the lookout for it, lessened 
both by exposing a photographic plate to the starry 
sky. He was spreading a net to catch planets and 
comets. A fixed star does not change its place during 
the exposure of the plate, or, rather, the plate moves 
as the star moves: a moving body, be it planet or 
comet, does change its place. A point will thus repre- 
sent a fixed star ; a line, however short, and however 
faint the trace, represents a moving body. When 
Herr Witt examined the exposed plate, he saw at 
once the trace left by the asteroid he was in search 
of; but another, a fainter and a longer trace of a 
moving body, was also seen on the plate. It was the 
trace of a planet hitherto unknown. An examination 
of the stranger resulted in the discovery that he was 
a ball twenty miles in diameter, and, excepting our 
moon, the nearest of the planets to us, so near that 
he may be made to tell us the exact distance we are 
from the sun. His discoverer called him Eros, Love or 
Cupid, evidently from his childish size.^ Herschel had 
no such short-cuts to discovery in his day. 

An immense impulse was given to the study of the 
stars by HerscheFs discovery. It was not merely 
what he achieved by being on the spot and on the 
lookout. It was also by the lesson he taught astro- 
nomers to do as he did. A band of twenty-four 

^ Nineteenth Century^ April 1899, p. 612. 


observers, suspecting, and with good reason, that a 
well-kept watch would reveal unknown wonders in 
the depths of space, undertook to search for other 
planets. Had photographic plates or charts then been 
part of the equipment of an observatory, the work 
would have been easy, and the reward certain. But 
plates and star -charts were not known; and the 
twenty -four workers laboured and toiled in vain. 
An outsider carried off first honours on the first day 
of the century — Piazzi of Palermo, who had visited 
Slough, had talked with Herschel and his sister, and 
perhaps drawn a breath of inspiration from them 
and their surroundings. The beaten twenty-four 
astronomers did not retire from the field. Two years 
later, Dr. Olbers, of Bremen, discovered another asteroid, 
Pallas; and two years later still, Harding, in the 
same neighbourhood, discovered a third, Juno. Olbers, 
wisely using imagination in the pursuit of science, 
came to the conclusion that these small bodies were 
pieces of a planet which had burst or exploded, and 
that other pieces would be found floating about in 
space. He acted on the idea, and rediscovered Piazzi's 
Ceres, which had been lost again, as well as a fourth 
asteroid, Vesta. Then the hunt for more pieces of the 
disrupted planet ceased, till, about forty years later, it 
again received a fresh impetus from Hencke's discovery 
of Astrsea, and was continued by Mr. Hind at the 
Regent Park Observatory in London, and others, with 
such success that floating pieces have been netted by 
hundreds, grumbled at as nuisances, and assigned the 
honour of having been thrown off direct by the sun 
himself, not blown into space by a disrupted planet. 
One of these pigmy planets was named Lucretia, after 


Herschel's sister. Such were some of the fruits of 
William Herschel's earliest studies among the stars. 

The nature of the wandering stranger discovered on 
March 13, 1781, was not fully known for some months. 
Herschel had surrendered the care of his new world to 
the astronomers of Europe, and they could not make 
up their minds about it, till Lexell of St. Petersburg led 
the way by showing that it was an outlying primary 
planet. A whole year elapsed, and Herschel had 
resumed his observations on this "singular star" 
before he thought of giving it a name. Events had 
happened during the interval which affected his view 
of the name it should bear: he had become Royal 
Astronomer to George ill., had received from him a 
yearly pension, was pursuing a profitable trade as a 
maker of telescopes under the King's patronage, and 
was housed under the shelter of Windsor Castle. It 
should cause no surprise, therefore, that, evidently after 
long consideration, he addressed the following letter to 
Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society : — 

"To Sir Joseph Banks, Baet., P.R.S. 

"Sir, — By the observations of the most eminent 
astronomers in Europe it appears that the new star^ 
which I had the honour of pointing out to them in 
March 1781, is a primary planet of our solar system. 
A body so nearly related to us by its similar condition 
and situation, in the unbounded expanse of the starry 
heavens, must often be the subject of the conversation, 
not only of astronomers, but of every lover of science 
in general. This consideration then makes it necessary 
to give it a name, whereby it may be distinguished 
from the rest of the planets and fixed stars. 


''In the fabulous ages of ancient times the appellations 
of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were 
given to the planets as being the names of their 
principal heroes and divinities.^ In the present more 
philosophical SBra, it would hardly be allowable to 
have recourse to the same method, and call on Juno, 
Pallas, Apollo, or Minerva for a name to our new 
heavenly body. The first consideration in any par- 
ticular event, or remarkable incident, seems to be its 
chronology : if in any future age it should be asked, 
when this last-found planet was discovered ? it would 
be a very satisfactory answer to say, * In the Reign of 
King George the Third.' As a philosopher then, the 
name of Georgium Sidus presents itself to me, as an 
appellation which will conveniently convey the in- 
formation of the time and country where and when it 
was brought to view. But as a subject of the best of 
Kings, who is the liberal protector of every art and 
science ; — as a native of the country from whence this 
Illustrious Family was called to the British throne ; — 
as a member of that Society, which flourishes by the 
distinguished liberality of its Royal Patron; — and, 
last of all, as a person now more immediately under 
the protection of this excellent Monarch, and owing 
everything to His unlimited bounty; — I cannot but 
wish to take this opportunity of expressing my sense 
of gratitude, by giving the name Georgium Sidus, 

' Qeorgium Sidus 
— jam nunc assuesce vocari' (Virg. Oeorg,\ 

to a star, which (with respect to us) first began to 
shine under His auspicious reign. 

^ Herschel might have known better than write this : see M. de 
Lalande's Astronomy^ sees. 639, 640. 


" By addressing this letter to you, Sir, as President 
of the Royal Society, I take the most effectual method 
of communicating that name to the Literati of Europe 
which I hope they will receive with pleasure. I have 
the honour to be, with the greatest respect, etc., 

"W. Herschel." 

When Herschel discovered the planet Uranus he had 
received no favour and no bounty from King or 
people. Nor did the King extend his patronage to 
him till fifteen months had elapsed. Galileo was in 
receipt of a handsome allowance from the Grand Duke 
of Tuscany, when he discovered the satellites of Jupiter, 
and called them the Medicean Stars. It was not only 
pardonable to do this ; it was most natural. But science 
refused to endorse the flattery: and scientific men, 
especially on the Continent, were equally unwilling to 
accept the name proposed by Herschel for the newly 
discovered planet. For many years it continued to be 
called the Georgian Star, or the Georgium Sidus, in this 
country, though not without strong protests. While 
scientific men in Britain allowed that "George the 
Third has many titles to be remembered by the friends 
of science, to which few of his contemporaries have 
any pretensions," they maintained, " We shall therefore 
do well to anticipate the decision of posterity, by at 
once adopting a term that must ultimately prevail." 
No one thinks of perpetuating the name Georgian now. 
Uranus has displaced it, and justly. The judgment of 
posterity has gone against the name proposed by the 
discoverer and that of Herschel^ generously proposed 
by Lalande. Heathenism and antiquity have carried 
the day. Everyone must decide for himself whether 


this was right, or whether the same rule should hold 
among the stars as has been allowed to hold on earth, 
where an adventurer gives his name to a New World, 
and the real discoverer has to rest content with naming 
a province of it, perhaps a province of little worth. 

In writing this letter to the President of the Royal 
Society, William Herschel could plead more grounds 
for justification than we might be disposed, at first 
sight, to allow. That he was recognised by the King 
as a discoverer and a leader of thought was a great 
honour, recommending him at once to the nation and 
to the whole world. That he was paid a salary out of 
the King s or the nation's purse, and was placed by the 
King near the palace and brought into close relations 
with the Royal Family is also manifest. We are 
bound to give due weight to these considerations in 
the mind of an upright and honourable man, who 
deeply respected his sovereign, and knew best the 
amount of his own indebtedness. But history tells 
more than one story, that goes far to justify Herschel's 
name for the newly discovered star. It was not an 
uncommon thing to exalt an earthly prince to a throne 
in earthly skies. Probably we shall all admit that this 
was a mistake, perhaps a degradation of true science, 
which knows no distinction between king and beggar, 
and whose boundaries have been extended, to quote 
the words of Galileo, a hundred thousand fold by 
those whom popes and princes despised- But the 
fact is beyond dispute. The hair of Berenice, the 
Queen of Egypt and the murderess of the lover by 
whom she was slighted, was carried oflf from the 
temple of Venus, to whom it was vowed, and placed by 
Conon as a constellation among the stars. Sobieski, 


the valiant deliverer of Eastern Europe from the 
Turkish power, got a similar honour done him by 
Hevelius in the then invented constellation called 
Sobieski's Shield. Galileo felt himself under such 
obligations to the ducal house of Tuscany that he 
named the four moons of Jupiter, which he discovered, 
the Medicean Stars, a name they long continued to 
bear. The honour of a place in the heavens was 
great. It was also much sought after, so much so 
that Galileo was told " he would do a thing just and 
proper in itself, and at the same time render himself 
rich and powerful for ever," if he " named the next 
star which he should discover after the name of the 
great star of France, as well as the most brilliant of 
all the world," Henry of Navarre. Fortunately, in this 
respect at least, he had not the chance, otherwise we 
might have had the starry heavens peopled with the 
princely nonentities of earth. Royer, in 1679, did a 
similar honour to Louis xiv., by forming a constella- 
tion, called The Sceptre, for that monarch's glory ; 
Messier, after the astronomer of that name, was 
another recently invented constellation on which 
Boscovich made the lines — 

"Sidera, non Messes, Messerius iste tuetur; 
Certe erat ille suo dignus inesse polo." 

But no one would have expected a man of science so 
famous as Edmund Halley, to invent a constellation in 
honour of Charles ii.. The Oak, in memory of his 
escape after Worcester, or that Flamsteed would have 
placed so rotten a thing as the " Heart of Charles ii." 
among the stars.^ 

^ Lalande, i. 283, 284. 


While we are satisfied that there is no ground for 
finding fault with Hersehel's name for the new planet 
he discovered, we are more satisfied that, by the mouth 
of Bode, the jury, to whom he required to appeal, 
disallowed the flattery, and called the planet Uranus, 
not even Herschel, as Lalande proposed. The next 
planet that was discovered, the first of the asteroids, 
was named by its discoverer Ceres Ferdinandea 
after a contemptible King of Naples, but Ceres has 
long since swallowed Ferdinandea up. Even at the 
time an amused cynicism, speaking in the Letters 
of Horace Walpole, was saying, " Must not that host 
of worlds be christened ? Mr. Herschel himself has 
stood godfather for His Majesty to the new Sidus. 
His Majesty has a numerous issue ; but they and all 
the princes and princesses in Europe cannot supply 
appellations enough for twenty millions of new-born 
stars." ^ 

In the year 1782 Herschel not only continued to 
prosecute the studies he had begun, but ventured into 
new and almost untrodden fields of research. Two or 
three months were cut out of the working time of that 
year by a summons to Windsor to see the King and 
hear what he might do for him. But his activity and 
enjoyment in work made up for lost time. In 1780 he 
contributed two papers, or twenty-five large pages, to 
the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society ; 
in 1781 he contributed two papers, or thirty-five pages ; 
and in 1782, notwithstanding the loss of two months, 
four papers, or nearly one hundred pages — a good 
year's scientific work for any man, more especially for 
one who was giving thirty or even thirty-eight music 

^ Letters^ yU 259. 


lessons to his pupils per week ; groaning and fretting 
under the incapacity of not a few of them — a man who 
had to be in his place conducting a band or a concert, 
and supervising a church's music, or who, instead of 
seeking rest in sleep, when the day's weary work 
was done, would often spend the night in observing 
the stars. His sister, who was his invariable com- 
panion in these night watches, had ample reason to 
say of him, " He did in one season more than anyone 
else could have done, and would have resumed the 
hv/at [for Saturn's satellites] the next fifteen years, if 
nothing had interfered." 

The new path on which he entered, and which led 
him into other and most attractive fields of inquiry, 
was the distance of what are called the fixed stars 
from the solar system. He knew that at the distance 
of the nearest of them, twice the sun's distance from 
the earth, immense though it seems, appears no bigger 
than a needle point, and cannot be used as a base line 
for measurement, or, indeed, as a line at all. He gave 
up the thought of attempting to solve the problem 
from that, the most natural and the easiest side. It 
was good for neighbours so near us as Mars and Venus. 
It was useless for Sirius or Arcturus. Following, 
perhaps, the example of Galileo, he believed that 
observations on stars so close together that neither 
the naked eye nor ordinary telescopes could separate 
them, and make two out of one, would lead to a 
discovery of their distance. He did not succeed in his 
purpose, but he was " introduced to a new series of 
observations and discoveries." He resolved to examine 
every star in the heavens with the utmost attention 
and a very high power, that he might collect such 


materials for this research as would enable him to fix 
his observations upon those that would best answer 
his end. The subject promises so rich a harvest that 
he cannot help inviting every lover of astronomy to 
join him in observations that must inevitably lead 
to new discoveries. He took some pains to find out 
what double stars had been recorded by astronomers ; 
but " Nature, that great volume, appeared to him to 
contain the best catalogue upon this occasion." 

The results of this search of the heavens appeared a 
month later in a Catalogue of Double Stars. They 
were "not only double stars, but also treble, double- 
double, quadruple, double-treble, and multiple." And 
he noticed, in a strangely prophetic vein of inspired 
imagination, not shrined in the temple of fact for more 
than twenty years after, " It is much too soon to form 
any theories of small stars revolving round large ones." 
Of 269 of the suns contained in this catalogue only 
42 had been previously observed. While pursuing 
researches so laborious and so delightful, he was 
driven to devise ingenious improvements on the 
micrometer, as the contrivance wa« called that is used 
for measuring small spaces. But Herschel's thoughts 
were turned into other channels in the summer of 
1782. He was raising questions we are only getting 
answers to now. 

While Herschel was thus rapidly rising into fame, 
he was not forgetful of the sister who generously 
sacrificed her own wishes and prospects as a singer 
to advance his as an astronomer. During the time 
she was free from her numerous engagements as the 
thrifty housekeeper, the careful secretary and time- 
keeper, the reviser and reducer of observations, she 


amused herself by sweeping the heavens for comets 
with a five-feet reflector, of which her brother had 
made her a present. She was so successful that her 
fame soon sounded over Europe. " Miss Herschel," one 
writer reports, "sister of the celebrated astronomer, 
has observed a comet, and its orbit has been calculated. 
This is the seventy-third comet of which we know 
the period." This celestial visitor was talked of in 
Windsor Castle as the Lady's Comet. Unfortunately, 
the name was not retained, as it ought to have been, 
or at least given to a later discovery by Miss Herschel. 
Between 1786 and 1797 she discovered eight comets 
altogether, but of only five was she the first discoverer. 
The seventh, seen by her on November 7, 1795, was 
specially worthy of this name, but is now known as 
Encke's Comet. Her value as an assistant to her 
brother, besides her own personal merit as a woman 
of science, got for her a pension of £50 from the Civil 
List, granted to the King by Parliament. It was 
sufficient for the modest wants of a woman who not 
only handled a telescope with the dexterity of a 
practised observer, but, when sixty years of age, spent 
some of the last days of her stay at Slough " in paint- 
ing and papering the rooms she was to occupy in a 
small house of her brother's, attached to the Crown 
Inn, to which she removed." 

Year after year, from 1780 to 1812, the active mind 
and the prolific pen of William Herschel enriched the 
Proceedings of the Royal Society with one or more 
papers, which astonished the world of science and 
attracted the attention of mankind. The years 1813, 
1816 were blanks, but 1814, 1815, 1817, and 1818 
showed no f eebling of hand or eye, although for years 


his strene^th had been failing: under the pressure of 
burdens kid on him as King's ^tronomer-unnecessary 
burdens. Without induing the diagrams, often Z 
themselves a heavy labour, these papers are spread 
over two thousand quarto pages, an extraordinary 
record of hard, honest, earnest work. His first two 
papers were said to be " communicated by Dr. Watson, 
Jr., of Bath, F.R.S., and written by Mr. William 
Herschel of Bath." The same designation of the 
astronomer appears again in the Proceedings for 
1781; but in the end of the year it is replaced by 
Mr. Herschel, F.R.S. In 1783-84-85 we find, William 
Herschel, Esq., F.RS. But from 1786, the year in 
which he received the degree of LL.D. from the 
University of Edinburgh,^ to 1815, the style is, 
William Herschel, LL.D., F.RS. In 1817, 1818, it 
becomes Sir William Herschel, Knt Chielp.y LL.D., 
F.B.S. The musician of Bath had made good his 
right to rank with the noblest and the most learned 
of men. 

^ Professor Holden, in his Life, writes (p. 47) : " It was only in 1786 
tliat he became *Dr. Herschel,* through the Oxford degree of LIj.D." 
This Oxford degree of LL.D. has of late been changed in his case into 
D.C.L. The Oxford '' Catalogue of all graduates . . . between Oct. 
10, 1659, and Dec. 31, 1850," does not contain his name, except as the 
father of Sir John Herschel, on whom the degree of D.CL. was 
conferred. The date of the Edinburgh degree is April 10, 1786, and 
is the only ground I can discover for the title LL.D., that he takes in 
all his papers from 1786 to 1818. The honour of LL.D. from Oxford 
was first claimed for Herschel in 1798-9. See Public Characters, i. 396. 




It was clear to men of science that something had to 
be done for Herschel. He could not toil or slave as a 
teacher of music and a conductor of concerts during 
the working hours of the day, and improve the tele- 
scope or keep watch on the stars by night, without 
discredit to a nation that was proud of its maritime 
supremacy, and offered a large reward for the best 
means of finding the longitude at sea. Since the 
discovery of Uranus, his name was in everybody's 
mouth, especially in Bath. People of celebrity, with 
or without introductions, came to see him. Among 
them was the Astronomer-Eoyal, Dr. Maskelyne, who 
proved a steady and admiring friend. At their first 
interview, Caroline thought they were quarrelling. 
Eagerness to make sure that this musician was a 
reality, not a sham, may account for the high tone of 
voice that sounded to her like quarrelling, while her 
brother's remark when Maskelyne left, "That is a 
devil of a fellow," reads more like a compliment than a 
censure. Dr. Watson, between whom and Herschel a 
friendship had sprung up, that lasted for the remainder 
of a long life, was constantly at his house, helping to 
grind or polish, offering money to meet expenses, which 
was gently declined, and communicating papers and 



letters from Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal 
Society. Herschel was rapidly outgrowing his sur- 
roundings. The dullest eye could see that something 
had to be done for the honour of the country. 
Herschel, though resident in England, was not an 
Englishman; but he was a subject of the King of 
England as Elector of Hanover, and the nation that 
reaped the honour, it might soon come to be the profit, 
of his discoveries, was bound to mark its sense of the 
value it set upon his presence within its borders. The 
Royal Society did what they could, but it was far 
from enough. As they honoured Benjamin Franklin 
with the Copley Medal in 1753 for "curious experi- 
ments and observations on electricity," so they showed 
their high regard for William Herschel by awarding 
the same medal to him in November 1781 for his 
" discovery of a new and singular star." On Decem- 
ber 6 of that year he was also elected a Fellow of 
the Society. But these honours did not meet the case. 
They were prizes won in the race for fame ; they did 
not provide a living or leisure for further triumphs. 
But the King personally was bound to interpose. He 
had a name throughout Europe for love of science, and 
especially of astronomy, which no other monarch en- 
joyed. A great French writer described him, long 
before Herschel appeared above the horizon, as " v^ri- 
tablement amateur de la Physique et de TAstronomie." 
For years he had supported an observatory and a King's 
Astronomer at Richmond. Parliament had provided 
ample funds in the form of a Civil List, of which at that 
time it got no account. But the funds were squandered 
or spent with such a lavish hand that enormous arrears 
remained unpaid. Apparently the King was helpless. 


Public opinion outside of scientific circles had also 
sometCing to say about Herschel, for he had become 
a power and a wonder in the country. " Mr. Herschers 
astronomical papers," it said, "have justly excited 
peculiar attention; and his account of a comet, or, 
perhaps, a new planet, hath procured for him the 
honour of Sir Godfrey Copley's Medal. Mr. Herschel, 
who is a musician at Bath, is one of those extraordin- 
ary men, whose genius for astronomy and whose talents 
for the improvement of instruments have enabled him 
to break through every disadvantage of situation, and 
to make discoveries which, as they call for the warmest 
approbation of mankind, ought to obtain for him a 
more than common encouragement and patronage."^ 
A year later the same organ of public opinion wrote ; 
" Mr. Herschel, of whom we spoke in our last volume, 
hath carried on his astronomical researches with amaz- 
ing success. He hath discovered a great number of 
double and triple stars, which are surprisingly and 
beautifully diversified in their appearance and their 
colours. The new star or comet, for the discovery 
of which he obtained the Gold Medal in 1781, is now, 
without controversy, ascertained by him to be a regular 
primary planet, beyond the orbit of Saturn. He hath 
given it the name of the Georgium Sidus, in honour 
of the King, who hath settled a handsome salary upon 
him and taken him into his immediate service. This 
instance of Royal patronage and munificence to eminent 
scientific merit is equally glorious to His Majesty and 
to Mr. Herschel." « 

The instincts of the writer were correct, but his 

^ ArmtMl Register for 1781 [118]. 
3 Annual Begister, 1782 [219]. 


knowledge of "the handsome salary" was perhaps 

" Among the Bath visitors were many philosophical 
gentlemen, who used to frequent the levees at St. 
James's when in town. Colonel Walsh,^ in particular, 
informed my brother that from a conversation he had 
had with His Majesty, it appeared that in the spring 
he was to come with his seven-foot telescope to the 
King. Similar reports he received from many others, 
but they made no great impression nor caused any 
interruption in his occupation or study," till " one 
morning in Passion Week, as Sir William Watson was 
with my brother, talking about the pending journey 
to town, my eldest nephew arrived to pay us a visit, 
and brought the confirmation that his uncle was ex- 
pected with his instrument in town." * This nephew 
was George Griesbach, son of the elder daughter in the 
Herschel family, and a musician well known and 
favoured at Court. A chaise was at the door to take 
brother and sister to Bristol, ten miles away, for a 
forenoon rehearsal bf the Messiah, which was to be 
performed in the evening. The conductor was too 
much absorbed in his nephew's news from Court to 
attend the rehearsal. Caroline was left to do it for 
him, and to fill "the music box with the necessary 
parts for between ninety and one hundred performers." 
This was how news of the endowment of research came 
from London to Bath. It was a reality, not a romance 
gilded with glory, like the news brought by an imagin- 
ary rider from Ghent to Aix. But the news, however 

^ Apparently one of the King's equerries, of whom we shall hear more 
in the course of the story. 
' Caroline Herschel, MemoirSf p. 44. 


Batisfactory, came in so unsatisfactory a way, and were 
so long in bearing fruit, that something was at work 
behind the scenes delaying progress. It appeared that 
the King's private astronomer, Mr. De Mainborg, was 
dead. Herschers friends imagined he was to succeed 
to the vacant post at Kew,^ for George ill. was known 
for his patronage of astronomy long before he heard 
of HerscheL In an observatory at Richmond, built 
under the superintendence of Bevis, 140 feet long and 
of two storeys, were several grand instruments made 
by Sisson of London.* 

Laden "with everything necessary for viewing 
double stars," Herschel. accompanied by his friend. 
Sir William Watson, left home on May 8. No letter 
reached the anxious household at Bath for a fortnight. 
At last Caroline and Alexander learned that " he had 
been introduced to the King and Queen, and had 
permission to come to the concerts at Buckingham 
House, where the King conversed with him about 
astronomy." He was also so favoured that " the King 
gave him leave to come to hear the Griesbachs play at 
the private concert which he has every evening." 
Even his brother Alexander was known to the King, 
and was inquired after in the same breath apparently 
as he inquired after " the great speculum." Had Miss 
Bumey been telling the story, she would probably 
have said that " What ? what ? what ? " looked upon the 
two as creatures of the same kind. But his pupils 
and Mr. Palmer, the manager of the theatre at Bath, 
must be told that he could not return till the King 
had seen the planets with the seven-foot reflector, and 
given him permission to leave. That telescope had 

* Memoirs, p. 821. ^ Lalande, Pre/ace, i, xxxvii. 


found a temporary home in the Royal Observatory at 
Greenwich, where it put Dr. Maskelyne out of conceit 
with the instruments he had for national use, and, not 
long before, for exhibition, with handling by the public, 
at so much per head!^ Colonel Walsh again makes 
his appearance as entertaining Herschel at dinner with 
the Astronomer-Royal, and Mr. Aubert, a well-known 
observer of those days. Both of them were delighted 
with the new telescope and its inventor. 

Maskelyne was provided at Greenwich with two 
mural quadrants of eight feet radius at a cost of £280 
each, a great transit instrument, a sector of 12 feet, 
and many other instruments. An assistant also was 
kept constantly at work on the observations made. 
Astronomers allowed that at no place had so many 
good observations been made as at Greenwich, but 
Maskelyne was dissatisfied when he compared the 
instruments with the telescope of Herschel, the work 
of the ablest craftsmen in England with that of a 
novice.* On February 20, 1806, the French mathe- 
maticians, " notwithstanding the spirit of hostility that 
had so long animated England and France against one 
another," gave a most gratifying proof of the regard 
in which they held Maskelyne and his predecessors in 
the Royal Observatory at GreenwicL They wrote by 
De Lambre to Maskelyne, sending him seven copies 
of their newly published astronomical tables, and 
paying the homage of gratitude and esteem to "the 
author of the greatest and most precious collection of 
observations that exists." They were " deduced, by the 
rules of Laplace, chiefly from a series of more than 
three thousand two hundred observations made at 

1 Weld, ii. 28. » Lalande, FrefoM, xxxvii. (1771). 


Greenwich between the years 1766, 1793."^ Science 
was thus the mother of peace and goodwill between 
two bitterly hostile nations. 

An attack of influenza, which wore off in less than 
a week ; a series of dinners, at which the new lion of 
science was exhibited to the gaze of "the best company," 
and little was talked " of but what they called his great 
discoveries " ; two nights of star-gazing at Greenwich ; 
state concerts, at which the King " kept him in conver- 
sation for half an hour," and even asked George 
Griesbach for a solo-concerto that his uncle might hear 
him play; acting the showman by explaining the 
speculum to the Princesses, and, on a cloudy evening, 
showing them, " with fine effect " through the telescope, 
a pasteboard Saturn at the bottom of the garden wall," 
— ^these and other tricks of this "showman of the 
heavens " were his employment for the next few weeks. 
" Company is not always pleasing," he wrote, " and I 
would much rather be polishing a speculum." In the 
midst of this mental dissipation he was brought down 
from heaven to earth by his money running short. 
Several times he wrote to Bath for a supply ! Delays 
so unnecessary, and the thoughtless indifference with 
which a working musician was kept hanging on at 
Court, without regard to his loss or his expenses, were 
not creditable to those concerned. It looks as if there 
were a hitch somewhere. 

His sister relates in a letter written in 1842, twenty 
years after his death, that the King was surrounded 
by wiseacres, who knew how to bargain. They pro- 
posed to send her brother back to Hanover on a salary 
of £100 a year. Her idea was that Parliament had 

^ £din, Itev,, 1809, pp. 66, 69. 


" granted to the King £80,000 a year for encouraging 
sciences." She also believed that West the painter 
and her brother were the first who benefited by this 
grant. She is referring, of course, to the arrange- 
ments regarding the Civil List, which came into effect 
in 1782.1 

It seems to me that the King had more serious 
diflSculties in dealing with William Herschel than are 
generally supposed. Unquestionably he had deserted 
the army of Hanover after a severe defeat, and in 
presence of an advancing enemy. A quarter of a 
century had passed since then ; but could the Elector 
of Hanover, as King of Great Britain, pass over an 
offence so grave, and knowingly honour the offender 
even after that lapse of time? So long as it was 
simply letting bygones be bygones, the matter was 
easy of solution; but it came to have another look 
when the offender was received under the shelter of 
the palace, admitted to intercourse with the Royal 
Family, and paid a pension out of the King's purse. 
That the offence was unknown to the King is altogether 
improbable. He knew Herschel's younger brother, 
Alexander, and inquired after him at a state concert 
in Buckingham House. He knew also the Griesbachs, 
Herschel's nephews, and employed five of them at these 
concerts. A family from the town of Hanover, and of 
such outstanding ability, would be so much in the 
mouth of Hanoverians that echoes at least of their 
gossip could not fail to reach the King's ears. The 
King's knowledge of every petty detail of gossip among 
the Hanoverians had passed into a proverb in England. 
"Modem poets differ from the Elizabethans in this," 

^ Memoirs, p. 321. 


Keats wrote, while George ill. was living : " each of the 
modems, like an Elector of Hanover, governs his petty 
state, and knows how many straws are swept daily 
from the causeways in all his dominions, and has a 
continual itching that all the housewives should have 
their coppers well scoured."^ It is manifest, too, that 
Herschel had no desire to return to his Hanover home, 
or even to the mother who aided him to escape in 
1757, and was the foolish cause of many perplexities 
and troubles. In fifteen years his visits were few, 
only three apparently, and his stay was brief. There 
was something in the air of the place that disagreed 
with him. It may therefore be that the King required 
to consult his ministers in Hanover before he could 
overlook the offence of a young guardsman, who had 
now become an astronomer, with whose fame all 
Europe was ringing. For two months the uncertainty 
about William HerscheFs future continued. Communi- 
cation with Hanover on business of state in those 
days was conducted by a " quarterly messenger," who 
was sometimes delayed, even in George iv.'s reign, 
forty years after this time. Delay was thus perhaps 
unavoidable.^ Clearly, the King or his advisers could 
not make up their minds what to do. At last they 
came to a decision in the way people do when in doubt. 
They split the difference, and made a bargain with 
Herschel unworthy of the King and the country. It 
looks as if Britain incurred odium for the sake of 

That the bargain included a pardon under the King's 

* Life, February 3, 1818, i. 84. 

* Memovra of Sir William Knighton, i. 321 ; Car, Her. also, pp. 282, 
240, 239. 


own hand is asserted on what is called unquestionable 
evidence, and is in itself extremely probable from a 
story told of George iv. on his visit to Hanover in 
1821. "Early in the morning," his physician-in- 
ordinary says, "a poor woman, with a countenance 
apparently much worn with sorrow, on her knees 
presented a petition to the King's Hanoverian cham- 
berlain, which was rejected. I saw this from the 
saloon, from which I was looking down on the many 
thousand persons assembled in the courtyard, and I 
observed the expression of despair which followed. I 
hastened down, fearing to lose sight of her, got her 
petition, and presented it to the King. 

"It craved his mercy for her husband, who was 
doomed to five years' hard labour in a fortress. She 
was the mother of eight littte children, and, it need 
not be added, in great poverty and want. The crime 
was of a nature to be pardoned, and this was done 
with his pen instantly ; for here his authority is 
absolute. We had the poor woman in the saloon, and 
you may imagine the rest." ^ 

The view taken of the bargain at the time was given 
voice to by Caroline Herschel, and has since been 
frequently repeated to the King's discredit, without the 
retractation which she made after her brother's death. 
Here is the retractation. Writing to her nephew, in 
April 1827, she says : — " P.8. — I must say a few words 
of apology for the good King, and ascribe the close 
bargains which were made between him and my 
brother to the ahdbby, Tnean-spirited advisers, who 
were undoubtedly consulted on such occasions; but 
they are dead and gone, and no more of them ! Sir J. 

^ Knighton, i. 169. 


Banks remained a sincere, well-meaning friend to the 
last." Not many days after (May 8, 1827) she writes 
what it never occurred to her, apparently, might 
account for this alleged mean-spirited shabbiness: 
"When in 1758 he again went to England, it was 
under such unpleasant circumstances that he was 
obliged to leave it to his mother to send his trunk 
after him to Hamburg." i The nation or mob that 
shot Admiral Byng for incapacity four months before 
the Hanoverian bandsman deserted, that cashiered Lord 
George Sackville for less two years before, and that 
not only ridiculed the King's own uncle, "the poor 
Duke," as Cumberland was called, " the lump of fat 
crowned with laurel on the altar," ^ but " were new 
grinding their teeth and nails to tear him to pieces the 
instant he lands," ^ for a similar fault to Byng's, had 
to be reckoned with in bestowing honours on a deserter. 
So the King may have thought, and so his dilatoriness 
and apparent shabbiness may be accounted for, as well 
as the secrecy in which the affair was shrouded during 
their lives. 

But there are circumstances which involve in still 
greater obscurity the whole of these so-called bargains 
between the King and William Herschel. Some years 
after the death of both, an English writer spoke of the 
ingratitude of England. But there is no proof that 
Herschel, though settled in England, was ever natural- 
ised His sister, so far as words could go, threw off 
her German nationality ; but words are not law. " I 
was always sure to be noticed by the Duke of Cam- 
bridge as his countrywoman," she wrote in 1835, " (and 

* Memoirs, p. 211. ^ Referring to a cartoon of the day. 

» Walpole's Letters, iii. 476, 284. 


that is what I want, I will be no Hanoverian!)"^ 
That these sentiments were simply an echo of her 
brother's, we can scarcely doubt. As far also as is now 
known, "the bargains" made were not reduced to 
writing. Everything seems to have been done by word 
of mouth. In fact, George iii. and his advisers dealt 
with Herschel, not as an Englishman but as a German. 
No English honours were bestowed on him, such as 
were bestowed on younger or less deserving men. 
Sir Humphry Davy received the honour of knight- 
hood from the Prince Regent in 1812. He was forty 
years younger than Herschel. Dr. Smith, one of the 
founders of the Linnean Society, was knighted by the 
Prince two years afterwards, although he was not 
specially known as a man of science.^ Two years 
later Herschel received a paltry honour, at lefist as 
Englishmen counted honours. There must have been 
reasons for this apparent neglect. But whatever they 
were, the truth remains that as far as can now be 
known, the rashness and anxiety of a woman of small 
capacity saved her son from the life of a musician in 
a Hanoverian regiment, not to his honour or hers 
certainly, and made a present of him to the cause of 
science with results of unspeakable honour to himself 
and the human race. The lad of nineteen who was 
induced by his mother to desert an army, led by an 
incompetent " lump of fat," as they then said, was no 
coward. He perilled life and limb too often in his work 
as an astronomer to be counted a poltroon as a soldier. 
When George ill. thus resolved to endow research 
in the person of William Herschel by appointing him 
Royal Astronomer at a salary of £200 a year, coupled 

* Memoirs, p. 276. » Weld, History, etc., ii. 327, 198. 


with permission to make and sell telescopes for his 
own behoof, and with the requirement that he should 
act as ''showman of the heavens" to princes and 
princesses, it was neither an uncommon nor an un- 
generous act in the world of science. It is presented 
to us in the gossip of the day as lacking in generosity, 
and reflecting small credit on the King and his advisers. 
The salary of Dr. Maskelyne, then Astronomer-Royal, 
and the head of the most famous observatory in 
Europe, a man of high standing to boot, and of world- 
wide scientific attainment, was only £300, to the dis- 
credit of the nation, not of the King. Besides, the 
Civil last from which, presumably, the pension was 
paid, was then in a transition and probably a crippled 
state. Two years before, Mr. Dunning moved in the 
Commons, and, after a feeble resistance, carried, " That 
it was competent to the House, whenever they thought 
proper, to examine into and correct abuses in the 
expenditure of the Civil List revenues." The Court 
required to be on its guard, as, in the very year the 
pension was granted to Herschel, the King sent a 
message to the Commons, " requesting a discharge of 
arrears of Civil List, amounting to nearly £296,000; 
the House voted the requisite sum." ^ 

The endowment of research was far from being a 
new thing in Europe. It had been the work of princes ; 
it was now becoming the work of parliaments and 
people. James I. when, in defiance of the witches of 
Scotland and Denmark, he crossed the North Sea to 

* Adolphus, Eistmy, iii. 119, 372 (1780, 1782). By . the Parlia- 
mentary regulations passed in 1782 ''no pension was to exceed £800 a 
year '* (16th April) (CasselFs History^ iv. 290-91). In 1783 arrears were 
again accumulating (Cassell, iv. 301). 


fetch home his bride, spent eight days under the roof 
of "that princely promoter of astronomy," Tycho 
Brahe. He found the astronomer living in comfort, 
encouraged by the splendid allowances of the King of 
Denmark, and able to build an observatory, which is 
said to have cost £20,000. Though always in straits 
for money, he not only honoured Tycho at his depar- 
ture with " a magnificent present, but also addressed 
to him a copy of versea" One of James's grandsons, 
Charles ii., appointed Flamsteed to be Astronomer-Royal 
at a salary of £100 a year. So inadequately was he 
paid that he had to eke out his income by taking 
orders in the Church of England. But James's great- 
grandson, William, was a more generous patron of 
science than his uncle. In his reign Newton received 
the post of Master of the Mint with a salary of £1200 
or £1500 a year, at a time when the commercial interests 
of England required a man of great intelligence, honesty, 
and resource to rescue society from the embarrassments 
into which incompetence and gambling had plunged 
the Mint and the country. A man of ability was 
required to cope with the evils of the time, and 
Newton, in spite of the sneers with which his appoint- 
ment was hailed even by Pope, proved himself to be 
the right man in the right place.^ But the sneer cast 
at our Government was true then, and may still be 
true, as it was seventy years ago when first uttered, 
"Able men are sure of oflSce when its emoluments 
are abolished." Men of science, men devoted to 
the best interests of their country, Dalton, Priestley, 
Ivory, Young, WoUaston, and Murdoch, to name no 
others, were treated with neglect, or considered well 

* Macaula/s Works iy. 248. 


paid if a Royal Society medal were awarded to them. 
Some, like James Watt, had even to save their own 
inventions from the grasp of unscrupulous claimants, 
who wished to rob them of the fruits of their genius. 
The result of this policy of indifference was plain to 
all who could see. "In England, whole branches of 
Continental discovery are unstudied, and, indeed, almost 
unknown, even by name. It is in vain to conceal the 
melancholy truth. We are fast dropping behind. In 
mathematics we have long since drawn the rein, and 
given over a hopeless race. In chemistry the case is 
not much better." These were the words of Sir John 
Herschel in 1830, fifteen years after the great war 
was ended, and could no longer be pleaded as a reason 
for our isolation and ignorance. Sir Humphry Davy, 
President of the Royal Society, spoke in the same 
terms and about the same time. Babbage, the in- 
ventor of the wonderful calculating machine, expressed 
views equally strong. " In England, particularly with 
respect to the more diflicult and abstract sciences, we 
are not merely much below other nations of equal rank, 
but below several even of inferior power, . . , and 
nothing but the full expression of public opinion can 
remove the evils that chill the enthusiasm, and cramp 
the energies of the science of England." ^ Seventy 
years have passed since then, and though it cannot be 
said that the ground lost has been all regained, a vast 
change for the better has taken place. Public opinion 
has been awakened to the danger that threatens the 
country from this neglect. 

It was long in vain that learned men, loving their 

^ Quarterly BevifiW, xliii. 305, ''Reflexions on the Decline of Science 
in England, and on some of its Causes." 



country, and seeing where one source at least of its 
true greatness lay, called attention to our rulers' dis- 
regard of education and science. " The return of the 
sword to its scabbard" in 1815, says an author who 
wrote fifteen years later, " seems to have been the signal 
for one universal eflfort to recruit exhausted resources, 
to revive industry and civilisation, and to direct to their 
proper objects the genius and talent which war had 
either exhausted in its service or repressed in its 
desolations. In this rivalry of skill, England alone 
has hesitated to take a part." France was leading the 
way, and was making up the ground it had lost. 
" Let us frankly acknowledge the fact," Arago wrote, 
"at the time when Herschel was prosecuting his 
beautiful observations, there existed in France no 
instrument adapted for developing them ; we had not 
even the means of verifying them. Fortunately for 
the scientific honour of our country, mathematical 
analysis is also a powerful instrument. Laplace gave 
ample proof of this on a memorable occasion, when 
from the retirement of his chamber he predicted, he 
minutely announced, what the excellent astronomer 
of Windsor would see with the largest telescopes 
which were ever constructed by the hand of man." 
And he adds, " It is for nations especially to bear in 
remembrance the ancient adage, noblesse oblige / " ^ 

It was not and had not been an uncommon thing 
for kings and princes to encourage research, when 
George iii. extended his patronage to the toiling 
musician of Bath. For two hundred years, at least, 
it had been a common thing in Europe — so common, 
indeed, that, if Herschel thought of it as a possibility 

^ Arago, Biographies, 223, 237. 


in his own case, he was justified by what the world 
knew of the lives of men of science on the Continent. 
He could say, as Galileo said before him, " My private 
lectures and domestic pupils are a great hindrance 
and interruption to my studies ; I wish to be entirely 
exempt from the former, and in great measure from 
the latter." Herschel had the same wishes, but not 
the same success, for Galileo was relieved of all pro- 
fessional duty, except giving lectures on extraordinary 
occasions to sovereign princes and other strangers of 
distinction. He was honoured with pensions and 
rewards from a petty prince in Italy, far superior at 
first to what Herschel enjoyed from the bounty of the 
wealthiest monarch and the richest country in the 

Galileo was only one example out of a multitude. 
Leibnitz, the contemporary and rival of Newton, was 
another. He was laden with honours and rewards 
showered on him from one end of Europe to the other. 
He left "a fortune of sixty thousand crowns, which 
were found, after his death, accumulated in sacks in 
various kinds of specie." Descartes, Euler, the two 
Bemoullis, Huyghens, and many more are proofs of 
the encouragement ^ven to ^ence by Idngs and 
princes. But the example of Fraunhofer, the con- 
temporary of Herschel, of DoUond, of WoUaston, first 
a common worker, then a great inventor and discoverer, 
shows best what George iii. might have done for 
Herschel, and what Herschel was justly entitled to 
expect from a prince who was twofold his sovereign, 
as Elector of Hanover and King of Great Britain. Of 
Fraunhofer it is said " his own sovereign, Maximilian 
Joseph, was his earliest and his latest patron ; and by 



the liberality with which he conferred civil honours 
and pecuniary rewards on Joseph Fraunhof er, he has 
immortalised his own name and added a new lustre 
to the Bavarian crown." The German and other 
astronomers, who refused to accept Oeorgium Sidns 
as a name for the planet discovered by Herschel, were 
right, as things then stood : the King, who then did 
so shabbily by the astronomer, deserved neither part 
nor lot in the astronomer's heavens ; and the common 
sense of mankind gave him none. But the King was 
unfairly judged, notwithstanding. 

This encouragement of science stood on a different 
footing from the degradation of private patronage and 
fulsome dedications, to which literature had been 
subjected, and from which it had shaken itself free. 
But both literature and science were exposed to 
another danger than neglect — disparagement and envy 
from within their own borders. In the case of 
Herschel we have a curious example of what seems 
this meanness, written in 1830, eight years after his 
death: "Herschel's fame rests on discoveries, for 
which he was indebted solely to the great power of 
his telescope. That of the planet, sometimes called 
by his name, was an accidental discovery, in which 
genius had no part, and which could not have been 
much longer deferred. He did not, like his illustrious 
contemporaries Delambre and Piazzi, distinguish him- 
self by the amelioration of the tables, or the reduction 
of catalogues of the stars, or by improving methods of 
computation, or indeed by any labour of practical 
utility. He devoted himself to the observation of 
astronomical phenomena, and in this department his 
unrivalled telescopes gave him a sort of supremacy. 


His speculations concerning the structure of the 
universe-the progressive condensation of nebute and 
clusters of stars — the nature of the sun and the 
seasons of the planets — occupying a large portion of 
the goodly collection of sixty-seven Memoirs, which 
he contributed to the Tramaactions of the Royal 
Society — are lively and amusing, but they are entirely 
useless to astronomy, and have added nothing to the 
mass of real knowledge." What an ungenerous, 
narrow-minded, unjust criticism ! Most certainly the 
man who, by patient effort and ingenious contrivance, 
advances the boundaries of human knowledge, if he is 
not a genius, deserves something better from his 
fellows than thus to be lightly esteemed for long- 
continued and successful labours. If Herschel had 
done nothing but invent a sounding-line to fathom 
the depths of space, and reveal worlds of light in 
countless profusion, he would have deserved well of 
humanity. The same criticism might have been 
passed on Galileo, who, in a letter to a friend, was 
proud to say that the Grand Duke "Ferdinand had 
been amusing himself with making object-glasses, and 
always carried one with him to work it wherever he 
went." Herschel, like Galileo and the Grand Duke, 
but on a vastly grander scale, was a grinder of mirrors 
for telescopes that were the wonder or envy of the 
world. And a distinguished man of science in our 
own time wrote of Herschel: "The success of this 
celebrated astronomer gave birth to a spirit of 
observation and inquiry which was before unknown. 
The heavens have been explored with the most un- 
wearied assiduity, and this laudable zeal for the 
advancement of astronomy has been crowned with 


the discovery of /our Tiew planets,''^ It was thus 
not only what Herschel was doing himself, but what 
he was inducing others to do. 

George iii. would not suffer William Herschel to 
return to his profession as organist, teacher of music, 
and director of concerts in BatL He was in this guided 
by an impulse worthy of the King of a great com- 
mercial and earth-exploring country. But for more 
than two months Herschel was kept in London and 
the neighbourhood, waiting the King's pleasure. 
Double the time had elapsed during which he could 
be absent from duty without loss of money, but until 
he got leave from the King to return home he had to 
remain in attendance at Court. Whoever was advis- 
ing His Majesty in the matter seems to have acted 
with singular want of thought. A Cosmo of Florence, 
a King of France, a Queen of Sweden, or an Empress of 
Russia would not have kept a man of science, who had 
at one bound sprung into greatness, dangling about 
the Court so long without providing for his personal 
wants. In HerscheFs case it was otherwise, for he 
wrote to Bath " several times for a supply of money " ! 
His friends in that city, loath to lose him, were, and 
not without cause, afraid that the offers made to him 
were not " very advantageous." They were certainly 
not creditable to those concerned. Herschel appears 
to have thought so himself, for, to all inquirers, but 
Dr. William Watson, his answer was, " that the King 
had provided for him." 

It was a poor provision, even though no demands 
had been made on his time and strength. It was 

^ Sir David Brewster in his edition of Ferguson's Astronomy, published 
in 1823, the year after Herschel's death, ii. 85, 


shabby when the return he had to make was set oflf 
against the salary he received. A teacher of elocution, 
the father of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, had enjoyed 
a pension of the same amount for about twenty years, 
through the influence of Lord Bute, " to enable him to 
carry on his literary pursuits." ^ But small though the 
allowance was, Herschel preferred the post of Royal 
Astronomer at Windsor to the troubles of a teacher's 
life at Bath. His friend Dr. Watson, not having yet 
forgotten, it may be, the discreditable civil war be- 
tween "the sharps" and "the blunts," in which the 
King did not figure to advantage, four years before, 
only echoed what would have been the general 
sentiment of scientific men, had they known, as he 
did, the money part of the arrangement, when he 
exclaimed, " Never bought monarch honour so cheap ! " 
It is far from pleasant to look back on this transaction 
or on the one-sided record of it given by Miss Herschel. 
Well would it have been had she laid the burden of 
blame on advisers, whom apparently she was not 
ignorant of. Probably it added to the bitterness 
which dropped from her pen, that in the following 
year, Pallas, or Mr. Pallas as he was called in this 
country, a student of George iil.'s own University of 
Gottingen, and a man of science far from equal to 
Herschel, got an addition of £200 to his salary in 
Russia ! ^ For the transaction, as we have seen, had a 
shabbier look than appears on the surface. At least, 
as it is represented, so it seems. Herschel was to give 
lessons in astronomy to the Princesses of the Royal 
Family, when called upon, and to receive the visitors 
whom His Majesty might send. This might and did 

^ Watkins, Memoirs, etc., i. 104. * Scots Mag., 1786, p. 536. 


prove a tax upon him, especially if he had been up all 
night watching the heavens. Still, it seemed a leaf 
taken out of the book of duties laid on Galileo by 
Cosmo de Medici, and promised to be both a relaxation 
and a pleasure. The same cannot be said of the other 
part of Herschers commission. He was at liberty and 
he was encouraged to make reflecting telescopes for 
sale, as a means of adding to his income. An arrange- 
ment so unwise, from the shopkeeping look it wore, 
should not have been proposed or sanctioned. It was 
a source of profit to the astronomer; but it did not 
differ from allowing Herschel to set up a factory for 
the manufacture and sale of telescopes with the Royal 
arms over the door, and "By appointment Royal 
Astronomer to the King'* painted underneath. No 
one who reads the language in which Buonaparte 
wrote to Laplace not many years after, can be surprised 
that, in view of this lowering of science, England 
should have been spoken of by him as a nation of 
shopkeepers. The King himself became Herschel's 
first customer, ordering from him four 10-feet reflectors, 
one of which was intended as a present to the 
University of Gottingen, which had been founded by 
his grandfather, George ii., forty-five years before, 
and was then rising into fame. These four reflectors 
cost six hundred and forty guineas apiece, and yielded 
a handsome profit.^ Othersj less costly, but still re- 
munerative, were also ordered. Two hundred guineas 

^ This looks like the market price, if we may judge from Short's 
charges forty years before. *' After Short had established himself in 
London in 1742 he received £630 for a 12-feet reflector from Lord 
Thomas Spencer. In 1752 he executed one for the £ing of Spain for 
£1200. The King of Denmark offered twelve hundred guineas" for 


was a common price. To be an instrument-maker, 
and to sell telescopes, was allowed him by the King ; 
but his sister's judgment on these conditions of the 
appointment is marked by her usual outspoken 
candour. Unfortunately, she presented the business 
in the least favourable light for the King, and her 
sentiments have been unfairly echoed to his discredit.^ 
Time so valuable as Herschel's was often absorbed 
by idle visitors, who understood little of his work, 
and made him no intellectual return. Sometimes a 
visit was paid to Slough that came to be remembered 
from its surroundings, but from nothing else. Of 
these none was more tragic than that of " the Princesse 
Lamballe, who came with a numerous attendance to 
see the moon, etc. About a fortnight after, her head 
was off." 2 

another {Lift of N&wUm^ i. 67). In Lalande's Astronomyf vol. i. xlix- 
lii, is a prioe-catalogae of astronomical instruments. Short's prices were — 

12-inch reflector, 14 guineas. 














Only one telescope of 12 feet was made by Short. In presenting a 10- 
feet reflector to the Society at Gottingen, George in. was following the 
example of his grandfather, the founder of the University, who pre- 
sented it in 1756 with a mural quadrant of 6-feet radius, made by 
Bird (£175), and other instruments. 

^ Sir David Brewster goes too far on the other side when he says, 
"None of the sovereigns who either preceded or followed him have 
an equal claim on the homage of astronomers " {Life of NewUm, i. 60). 
This could not be said of the King at first. 

' Memoira^ p. 332. This is assigned to 1787, when she was certainly in 
England ; but the Princess perished in 1792, 



There is reason to believe that the discoverer of the 
telescope was Roger Bacon, who in the thirteenth 
century also invented gunpowder, and was rewarded 
with the curses of the Church, the reproaches of his 
fellow-friars, and the terror of the ignorant as a 
wonder-worker by the aid of evil arts. His discovery 
of how to see to a greater distance than the eye can 
reach, was a seed that died in the ground, and did not 
come to life again till the world was more than three 
centuries older. A spectacle-maker of Leyden, Lipper- 
shey, working among lenses, as the glasses of spectacles 
are called, chanced to place two of them so that, in 
looking through, he saw a distant church spire as if it 
were close at hand. He made the story public in 
1609. Galileo, who happened to be then in Venice, 
between which and Holland the East India traffic still 
continued, and gave rise to a considerable commerce, 
heard the story, probably from some merchant, and, 
instead of turning it into ridicule as many would have 
done, set himself to find out if he could not do what a 
humble spectacle-maker on the other side of Europe 
had already done. He was successful. He brought 
the moon and the planets so much nearer to the earth 
that astronomy took its place among the sciences. 



Professors, monks, and friars were as bitter revilers of 
Galileo as they had been of Roger Bacon. The sleep 
of ages of ignorance was so rudely broken by the 
magical little tube he put together, that, as they rubbed 
their eyes and saw the old world of thought dissolving 
out of view, they cursed the disturber of their grave- 
yard peace. 

Galileo's first telescope magnified three diameters or 
nine times : his last magnified thirty-three diameters. 
He could not go farther with the glass lenses then in 
use. At thirty-eight diameters the colours, developed 
in the passage of rays of light through glass, or by 
what is called refraction, put an effectual stop to pro- 
gress. Newton began where Galileo stopped. He 
analysed a beam of sunlight into its component colours 
as they are seen in the rainbow, or through a glass 
prism. He came to the conclusion that "refraction 
could not be produced without colour." He was mis- 
taken, and the mistake of a man so eminent led the 
whole world astray. Acting on this belief, he argued 
that "no improvement could be expected from the 
refracting telescope," that is, from an instrument with 
a glass or lens at the object end of the tube to form 
an eye that collected and focused the rays of light. 
Colour, though thus barring the march of advancing 
science, really indicated the path of progress. But 
nearly two centuries elapsed before the lost road was 
regained, and the prism of glass became a more power- 
ful factor in revealing the wonders of distant worlds 
than the best telescopes. However, progress was not 
wholly barred. Colours were not developed by the 
reflection of light from a polished surface. If, then, a 
highly polished mirror were placed in the bottom of a 


tube, open at the other end, the rays of light could be 
brought to a focus and directed to an eye-piece, where 
an observer, with his back to the object, it might be, 
could see it clearly and distinctly magnified. The 
mirror required to be of a parabolic form, and might 
be made of metal or of glass. Newton chose an alloy 
of tin and copper for the mirror or speculum, but he 
did not trouble himself about grinding it into the form 
of a parabola. The second reflecting telescope he made 
magnified thirty-eight diameters, and was presented to 
the Royal Society in 1671. Half a century passed 
before any farther step was taken with either refract- 
ing or reflecting telescope. Hadley, the inventor of 
the sextant, then took the matter up. In 1723 he 
made one on Newton's pattern, with a mirror of 
6 inches aperture, and a focal length of 62f inches. Its 
eye-pieces magnified up to 230 diametera A report on 
it was made to the Royal Society, of which the sub- 
stance was that Newton's telescope " had lain neglected 
these fifty years," but Hadley had shown " that this 
noble invention does not consist in bare theory." 
Strange to say, in that very year an English gentle- 
man had made a refracting telescope, which largely 
overcame the difficulties arising from colour. His wa^ 
the first achromatic or colourless telescope : it remained 
the only one for another fifty years. Although its 
inventor lived all that time, he neither claimed first 
honours nor interfered with the patent of the second 
discoverer, DoUond. 

Another half-century thus passed, and little or 

nothing had been done. Dollond had rediscovered in 

1 1758 the method of counteracting colour in glass 

lenses, but no one seemed disposed to apply the prin- 


ciple on a large scale. Apparently the way here also 
was barred against progress. All attempts to manu- 
f actare discs of pure flint glass larger than seven inches 
in diameter failed. Up to that point the achromatic 
refracting telescope was a great success. For seventy 
years good specimens of considerable size were exceed- 
ingly rare, and even in 1830 a disc of eleven inches and 
seven-tenths in diameter cost £1000.^ An obscure 
musician, considering it probably impracticable to ex- 
tend the range of DoUond's telescope, or impressed by 
the name and authority of Newton, was amusing him- 
self, in 1772, if hard and continuous work can be called 
amusement, with casting and grinding mirrors, with 
mounting telescopes, and with studying the heavens in 
Bath, the gayest and idlest city in England. The 
people who formed the Literary Society of the town, 
who met to read papers on scientific subjects, and some 
of whom were members of the Royal Society of London, 
did not even know him. They were pigmies ; a giant 
was among them, of whose existence and works they 
were not aware. 

The courage of this musician was extraordinary. In 
the very year in which he removed to Bath, Messier, 
an eminent French astronomer, warned the Royal 
Society of London that progress in astronomy could 
be hoped for only from refractors. His words are : 
"It were to be wished that astronomers might be 
accommodated with achromatic telescopes of the most 
perfect construction, as such are the only instruments 
whereby a great knowledge of the celestial bodies can 

^ Herschel sometimes used a 3jf-feet achromatic or refracting tele- 
scope and a single eye-lens to confirm apparently the evidence of his 
20-feet or 7-feet reflectors. 


be acquired." Herschel cannot well be supposed to 
have been ignorant of this scientific faith. With the 
modest boldness of true genius he not only set it aside, 
but he proved it was entirely wrong. This was at the 
very beginning of his career. A novice challenged the 
accuracy of an eminent master and veteran in the art ! 
A novice compelling a veteran to withdraw his pro- 
phecies and confess himself in error ! Why he thus 
set aside the refractor and boldly followed to un- 
imagined ends the path of improvement for Newton's 
reflector he has not told us. Both ways were open ; 
he had perhaps tried both, for he was aware of both ; 
but he preferred the latter. 

While still engaged as musical director and teacher 
at Bath, Herschel formed the design of constructing 
a 30-feet reflector with a 3-feet mirror. This was 
about the year 1778, before he was even known to 
the upper classes of citizens or visitors as an amateur 
astronomer. The first mirror of this kiCd which he 
cast cracked in the cooling. When preparing for a 
second casting, the furnace, which he had built on pur- 
pose in his own house, gave way, the molten metal 
ran into the fire, overflowed the stone floor, and nearly 
cost him his life. But his papers in the Philosophical 
Transactions were making him known, and his dis- 
covery of the planet Uranus brought him to the 
King's notice, and put a stop for a time to the realisa- 
tion of his cherished idea of a great telescope. From 
the first he was bent on doing what no other had done 
before him — carrying out Newton's conception of a 
great reflector, whether the mirror used were glass or 
metal, and exploring the heavens with an instrument 
such as the mind of man had never before imagined. 


He conceived the idea of a 40-feet reflector, with a 
4-feet mirror at the bottom of the tube, cast and 
polished by himself. His own account of the begin- 
ning of this magnificent work is this : " In the year 
1783 I finished a very good 20-feet reflector with a 
large aperture, and mounted it upon the plan of my 
present telescope. After two years' observation with 
it, the great advantage of such apertures appeared so 
clearly to me, that I recurred to my former intention 
of increasing them still farther ; and being now suffi- 
ciently provided with experience in the work I wished 
to undertake, the President of our Royal Society, who 
is always ready to promote useful undertakings, had 
the goodness to lay my design before the King. His 
Majesty was graciously pleased to approve of it, and 
with his usual liberality to support it with his Royal 
bounty." There is this to be said on the departure 
now made, that the great telescope, from the difficulty 
of handling it, cannot be considered to have altogether 
answered his expectations, for the 20-feet continued 
to be his favourite in studying the heavens. But he 
was full of hope. " By applying ourselves," he wrote 
in April 1784, " with all our powers to the improve- 
ment of telescopes, which I look upon as yet in their 
infant state, and turning them with assiduity to the 
study of the heavens, we shall in time obtain some faint 
knowledge of, and perhaps be able partly to delineate, 
The Interior Conetruction of the Universe,*' 

Herschel himself devised and superintended every- 
thing about this great telescope. None but " common 
workmen " were employed, agi was also the case with 
the greater reflector built by Lord Rosse, sixty years 
later. The woodwork of the stand, and machines for 


giving the required motions up or down, right or left, 
were designed, drawn, and overlooked by him in 
their minutest details. Not a screw bolt was put in — 
and nothing else was used to obviate the effects of 
damp getting a lodgment in the woodwork — without 
his own eye watching or directing the work. The 
casting of the great mirror was begun while the 
building of the stand was thus proceeding. He had to 
remove froni Datchet to Clay Hall, and thence, in 1786, 
to Slough, before the mirror was finished, but apparatus 
and materials were all transferred from the one house 
to the other without delaying the work. So rapidly 
had the work been pushed forward that the stand was 
ready, and the mirror, " highly polished," was put in 
the tube in less than a year and a half. " I had the 
first view through it," Herschel writes, " on Feb. 19, 
1787." It was not satisfactory. "By a mismanage- 
ment of the person who cast it, it came out thinner 
on the centre of the back than was intended, and on 
account of its weakness would not permit a good 
figure to be given to it." Twelve or fourteen men had 
been daily employed in grinding or polishing it by 
hand, for machinery did not come into use for this 
purpose till 1788. It was labour lost. The work had 
to be begun anew, and a second mirror was cast Jan. 
26, 1788, nearly a twelvemonth after the first peep 
into the other. Fatality again ! " It cracked in cool- 
ing." Three weeks after it wjis recast, and by Oct. 24 
it was brought tp such " a figure and polish " that he 
tried it on the planet Saturn. He was so dissatisfied 
with the result that he " continued to work upon it 
till Aug. 27, 1789, when it was tried upon the fixed 
stars, and found to give a pretty sharp image," 


although " large stars were a little affected with 
scattered light, owing to many remaining scratches 
in the mirror." 

Four years of hard thinking and continuous labour, 
of battles with not very intelligent workmen, some- 
times forty in nupoiber, and of disappointment with 
himself, if not also with grumbling from his sister 
Caroline, ended at last. A triumphant tone may be 
heard in the words which conclude his short history of 
the progress of the work. They are : — 

"Aug. the 28th, 1789.— Having brought the tele- 
scope to the parallel of Saturn, I discovered a sixth 
satellite of that planet, and also saw the spots upon 
Saturn better than I had ever seen them before, so 
that I may date the finishing of the 40- feet telescope 
from that time." 

Herschel could now take stock of the " contents of 
the heavens " as he had never been able to do before. 
High above the ground, while the tube was coated 
with ice in winter, or running with streams of 
moisture in summer, he could dictate through speaking- 
tubes what his sister was to write down, or how the 
assistant was to move the telescope. Seated in a little 
house far below, his sister watched the clock, and 
entered remarks and measurements with an accuracy 
and zeal no other assistant could have equalled or sur- 
passed. Brother and sister were in a position to carry 
out great ideas, and to put into living shape vast 
imaginations of genius. 

The cost of this telescope was far more than 

Herschel could be expected to meet. Fortunately, the 

advisers of the King were more reasonable men than 

those who considered £200 a year remuneration enough 



for the Royal Astronomer. Chief among them was the 
Maecenas of science in those days, Sir Joseph Banks, 
the companion of Cook, and the President of the 
Royal Society. Owing to his representations, the King 
allowed his astronomer £2000 for the construction of 
the telescope, and afterwards £2000 more to complete 
it, with £200 a year for necessary repairs, painting, 
ropes, etc., and men's wages, and £50 a year of pension 
for Caroline. When Caroline Herschel records these 
handsome allowances from the King, she expresses no 
thankfulness, though her own personal expenses for 
seven years previous had not amounted to more than 
£8 a year! But she had cause to complain. "I 
never felt satisfied," she writes in 1827, " with the 
support your father received towards his under- 
takings, and far less with the ungracious manner 
in which it was granted. For the last sum came with 
a message that more must never be asked for." One 
of the requests was a small salary for her as assistant 
to her brother. The sum granted was £50 a year. 
For nine quarters it was left unpaid ! It is perhaps 
matter of regret that she wrote as she did of the 
shabbiness of the pension allowed to her brother. She 
did the King a grave injustice. And she forgot, 
besides, that while the King paid £4000 for the tele- 
scope,^ and allowed £200 a year for upkeep and wages, 
the instrument remained her brother's private pro- 
perty. William Herschel shows no trace of the 
grumbling, cynical spirit of his sister. He knew 
how handsomely he had been treated. At the same 
time there is a most amusing raciness about her view 

1 Letter from Sir John Herschel, March 13, 1847 : Weld's History of 
the HoycU Society, ii. 193, 


of the building of this grand instrument, which it 
would be a mistake to overlook. 

Caroline Herschel had difficulties with servants from 
her earliest days of housekeeping. No one pleased her ; 
whether because, having been intended for a household 
drudge herself by her mother and her brother Jacob, 
she was too exacting when it came to her turn to lord 
it over others, or from the ignorance and disregard to 
right of the class servants were drawn from, we cannot 
telL But her account of the workmen whom her 
brother employed on the great telescope paints the 
employed of those days in colours more black, and 
more incredible, than we are warranted in receiving 
without scruple. For some weeks in the summer of 1 786 
she was left in charge at Slough, while her brother was 
absent in Hanover on a scientific mission from the 
King, charged in fact with conveying to the University 
of Gottingen a 10-feet reflector, constructed by Her- 
schel, and presented by the King for the Observatory, 
which had already taken high rank in Europe. " There 
were no less than thirty or forty of my brother's work- 
people," she writes, "at work for upwards of three 
months together, some employed in felling and rooting 
out trees, some digging and preparing the ground for 
the bricklayers who were laying the foundation for the 
telescope, and the carpenter in Slough, with all his 
men. The smith, meanwhile, was converting a wash- 
house into a forge, and manufacturing complete sets 
of tools for the work he was to enter on. . . . In short, 
the place was a complete workshop for making optical 
instruments, and it was a pleasure to go into it to see 
how attentively the men listened to and executed their 
master's orders." 


This is one and a pleasingly picturesque side of the 
medal, that might have been struck to commemorate 
the building of the great reflector. But another and 
an almost incredible other side is presented on the 
same page of her Memoirs. " I cannot leave this 
subject," she says, "without regretting, even twenty 
years after, that so much labour and expense should 
have been thrown away on a swarm of pilfering work- 
people, both men and women, with which Slough, I 
believe, was particularly infested. For at last every- 
thing that could be carried away was gone, and nothing 
but rubbish left. Even tables for the use of work- 
rooms vanished : one in particular I remember, the 
drawer of which was filled with slips of experiments 
made on the rays of light and heat, was lost out 
of the room in which the women had been ironing. 
... It required my utmost exertion to rescue the 
manuscripts in hand from destruction by falling into 
unhallowed hands or being devoured by mice." A 
nest of savage South Sea islanders, lifting whatever 
they could carry away from a house within two or 
three miles of Windsor Castle in the end of last cen- 
tury may be an accurate picture of the ways and 
manners of English workpeople then, but it is 
pardonable to receive it with a smile of incredulity, 
and to imagine other reasons for the alleged pil- ' 

Servants seem to have been a cross which Caroline 
Herschel never could bear with an equal mind. In 
1831, when she was eighty-one, she was as hard to 
satisfy as in 1772, when she was only twenty- two: 
" The first thing my radical servant did when she came 
to me was to break the bottle containing the ink of my 


own making, which was to have lasted me all my life- 
time." ^ 

The ingenuity of the appliances for ensuring stability 
and lightening labour in consulting the telescope was a 
monument to the mechanical genius of Herschel, in 
keeping with the greatness of the mirror. These 
appliances are now things of the past, not to be re- 
peated by any future adventurer in the fields of 
research, but none the less worthy of respectful regard 
even in this age of engineers. They were not successful 
in making a cumbrous machine so light and easy to 
handle as science required, but that is only saying that 
the necessity for this preceded the discovery of the 
means of doing it, and that the first attempts were 
inferior to those made later. The iron tube, at the 
bottom of which lay the colossal eye that looked 
heavenwards, was 39 feet 4 inches in length and 4 feet 
10 inches in diameter. It was an unwieldy and far 
from necessary addition to the structure, enough to 
cause error in observations by its ton-weight and 
instability. He had also to make arrangements for 
conveying observers and visitors from the ground to 
the gallery, 30 feet high or more, to whom ladders 
would have been difficult or dangerous. A chair-lift 
was devised, but was never erected. So easy did he 
find the ladders, and such was his agility at sixty and 
seventy years of age, that he preferred to reach or 
leave his post of observation by running up or down 
them. Among other requirements was a means of 
communicating readily and at once from his lofty 
perch both with the recorder of observations, whose 

* March 1831, Menrnrs, p. 244. Compare this with the ** hot-headed 
old Welshwoman" of 1772, p. 83. 


duty was, under cover of a roof, to watch the clock, 
and to enter the measurements or remarks of the 
observer, as well as with the workman in attendance. 
A " speaking-pipe," as it was then called, of variable 
length to suit changes in his position, but 115 feet long 
at the most, was devised and fitted up. Usually his 
sister Caroline was the recorder who did the work, all- 
night work at times. 

The mechanical skill shown in the construction of 
the telescope was proved sixty years after by Herschel's 
distinguished son. Sir John, in a letter already re- 
ferred to, dated March 13, 1847 : " The woodwork of 
the telescope being so far decayed as to be dangerous, 
in the year 1839, 1 pulled it down (the operation com- 
menced on December 5), and having cleared away the 
framework, etc., piers were erected on which the tube 
was placed, that being of iron, and so well preserved, 
that although not more than one-twentieth of an inch 
thick, when in the horizontal position it sustained 
within it all my family, and continues to sustain 
enclosed within it to this day, not only the heavier of 
the two reflectors, but also all the more important 
portions of the machinery, such as being of iron and 
brass stood in no fear of decay, as well as all such 
portions of the polishing apparatus as would go into it, 
to the amount, I presume, of a great many tons, which 
had, when I last saw it, produced no sign of weakness 
or sagging down. This great strength and resistance 
to decay is to be attributed to the peculiar prin- 
ciple of its internal structure, which is, in effect, very 
similar to that for which, in later times, a patent 
has been taken out under the name of Corrugated 
Iron Roofing, etc., but of which the idea was, I 


have every reason to believe, original with my father 
at the time of its construction; as was, I am dis- 
posed to think, also the syatem of triangular 
arraTigement adopted in the woodwork, being a 
perfect system of 'diagonal bracing,' or rather that 
principle to which the 'diagonal bracing' system 
owes its strength. 

"The other mirror and the rest of the polishing 
apparatus are on the premises, but in a situation 
adapted only for preservation, and neither for use nor 
inspection. The iron grinding tools and polishers are 
placed underneath the tube, let into the ground, and 
level with the surface of the gravelled area in which it 
stands." ^ 

The duty of attending to machinery and mirrors, in 
an observatory such as Herschel's, was not free from 
danger. Even visitors had to take the risk of an 
accident in satisfying their curiosity. Piazzi of Pal- 
ermo, the discoverer of the first asteroid, " did not go 
home without getting broken shins," Caroline writes. 
And she adds, "I could give a pretty long list of 
accidents which were near proving fatal to my brother 
as well as myself." ^ One of these accidents she does 
record. It was on December 31, 1783 : "The evening 
had been cloudy, but about ten o'clock a few stars 
became visible, and in the greatest hurry all was got 
ready for observing. My brother, at the front of the 
telescope, directed me to make some alteration in the 
lateral motion, which was done by machinery, on which 
the point of support of the tube and mirror rested. At 
each end of the machine or trough was an iron hook, 

^ Weld, History f etc., ii. 193. 
^ See especially, MemairSf p. 168. 


such as butchers use for hanging their joints upon, and 
having to run in the dark on ground covered a foot 
deep with melting snow, I fell on one of these hooks, 
which entered my right leg above the knee. My 
brother's call, ' Make haste ! ' I could only answer by 
a pitiful cry, 'I am hooked!' He and the work- 
men were instantly with me, but they could not lift 
me without leaving two ounces of my flesh behind. 
... At the end of six weeks I began to have some 
fears about my poor limb. ... I had, however, the 
comfort to know that my brother was no loser through 
this accident, for the remainder of the night was 
cloudy." The compensation she urges, in extenuation 
of the accident, by its drollery almost makes us forget 
its gravity. Once also when her " brother was elevated 
fifteen feet or more on a temporary cross-beam instead 
of a safe gallery," a very high wind so shook the 
apparatus that "he had hardly touched the ground 
before the whole of it came down." If accidents so 
serious happened before the heavier and more cumbrous 
machinery of the 40-feet telescope was erected, we 
may be certain that Herschel's mechanical skill did not 
avail to prevent them in the working of the great 

If Herschel had done nothing more for science than 
build this great telescope he would have amply earned 
the high eulogium graven on his tombstone at Upton, 
" The barriers of the heavens he broke through, penetrat- 
ing as well as exploring their more remote spacea" 
Nothing to compare with it had been seen before. It 
was a wonder that the gravest man of science regarded 
with deepest admiration, and children at school looked 
on with awe in the pictures of it seen on the pages of 


books they read. But the spirit of a wholesome 
rivalry, which it awoke in many bosoms, did more for 
astronomy than its builder or it ever did. It was the 
origin of other instruments of the same kind, as grand 
as itself or even grander. Some men of science, 
waspishly inclined perhaps, denounced the great 
telescope as of no use. Both in England and on 
the Continent this was said, and most unfairly, as 
everyone who reads Herschel's papers may discover 
for himself. He has frankly and fully explained in 
his writings ^ why he preferred to use other and smaller 
telescopes, and perhaps to use them oftener, but his 
love for and his pride in this work of his hands is ever 
and again coming to the front. One instance alone 
deserves to be quoted as a specimen : " I saw the 
fourth sateUite and the ring of Saturn in the 40-f eet 
speculum without an eye-glass." ^ 

But it WEW3 seldom that astronomers on the Con- 
tinent followed the example of William Herschel or 
gave themselves the trouble he took. Some of them 
did. Of " Professor Amici, an artist and a man of 
science of the first rank," his son. Sir John Her- 
schel, writes: "He is the only man who has, since 
my father, bestowed great pains on the construction of 
specula, and his 10-foot telescopes with 12-inch mirrors 
are of very extraordinary perfection." This was 
true at the time it was written, two years after his 
father's death. It did not remain true, for Lord Eosse's 
great 6-feet mirror and 56-feet tube had still to 
come. And like Herschel, Lord Rosse was his own 
workman. When visiting him at Birr Castle in 1862, 

^ Phil, Trans,, 1815, p. 296. 

^PhU, Trans., 1791, p. 76 (October 10). 


Nassau Senior relates that "the smaller speculum of 
the great telescope had been broken, and no one except 
Lord Bosse himself could polish it, which he had not 
yet had time to do ; but we have been able to use the 
3-f eet reflector." ^ The necessity of this personal 
labour from the owner himself, hard manual labour, 
was one great drawback to the value of these magnifi- 
cent instruments. 

Kings and princes and men of science paid handsome 
sums to Herschel for telescopes made by his own hand. 
While the great telescope was in progress, George iii. 
presented the Observatory of Gottingen with a reflector, 
which Herschel took to Hanover along with his brother. 
He also ordered other 10-feet for himself, and many 
7-feet besides had been bespoke; but the finest and 
costliest was one for the King of Spain, ordered in 1796 
and not sent off till October 1801. It cost £3150. 
Other two for the Prince of Canino brought £2310. 
But this was telescope-selling, not star-observing. It 
cost time and trouble, that might have been devoted to 
better purpose. No wonder that his sister grumbled. 
She was hindered in her proper work by the packing 
of the Spanish reflector, " which was done at the bam 
and rickyard at Upton, her room being all the while 
filled with the optical apparatus." ^ It was small satis- 
faction to her that the University of Edinburgh con- 
ferred the degree of LL.D. on her brother in 1786. She 
did not consider that reward at all equal to his merits. 
She echoed the words of General Komarzewski, spoken 
by him probably in fun, but received by her in earnest, 
that Herschel should be honoured as the Duke of 

^ JoumdlSf etc,, relating to Ireland^ ii. 247. 
* Memoirs, p. 110. 


Slough. He did not even get a knighthood from his 
Royal patron. In 1816 he was made a Hanoverian 
Ejiight by the Prince Regent; traders, slave-holders, 
moneyed men of all classes were raised to the pelage, 
but brain power was then less esteemed for the besllowal 
of worldly rank. 

Before the tube was fitted with the great mirror, 
many of the visitors who flocked to see William 
Herschel had the curiosity to walk through it. 
Among them was the King. Close behind him was 
the Archbishop of Canterbury, who found it diflScult 
to proceed, till the King turned to give him his hand, 
saying, *' Come, my Lord Bishop, I will show you the 
way to heaven." 

An invitation from Mr. Herschel to walk through 
the tube, as it lay on the ground, was not uncommon. 
Miss Bumey and the party she was with accepted the 
invitation. " It held me quite upright," she says, "and 
without the least inconvenience; so would it have 
done had I been dressed in feathers and a bell hoop — 
such is its circumference. Mr. Smelt led the way, 
walking also upright ; and my father followed. After 
we were gone, the Bishop [of Worcester] and Dr. 
Douglas were tempted, for its oddity, to make the 
same promenade."^ Evidently the Church was not 
disposed, in those days at least, to look Heaven in the 

While the greater tube of Lord Rosse's telescope 
was lying in readiness to receive its greater mirror, 
visitors were also in the habit of walking through 
it, sixty years later. The Dean of Ely, a well-known 
mathematician, and a man of more than the common 

^ LeUers, iii. 262. 


height, is said to have walked through with his 
umbrella up. The days of these gigantic tubes are 
past. The career of Herschel's 40-feet was inaugur- 
ated by a concert held within the tube, just as 
its end was celebrated half a century afterwards. 
" ' God save the King ' was sung in it by the whole 
company, who got up from dinner, and went into 
the tube, among the rest two Misses Stow, the one a 
famous pianoforte player, some of the Griesbachs, who 
accompanied on the oboe, or any instrument they 
could get hold of, and I," Caroline in her ninetieth 
year continues, " you will easily imagine, was one of 
the nimblest and foremost to get in and out of the 
tube. But now ! — lack-a-day ! — I can hardly cross 
the room without help." She was then a giddy girl 
of only thirty-seven 1 But when the concert was held 
in the tube at the end of the great telescope's career, 
she was in Hanover, never destined again to see the 
noble work of her "best and dearest of brothers." 

On the return of Sir John Herschel from South 
Africa in 1838, it was found that the woodwork of 
the great telescope was so decayed that the structure 
was dangerous. It had stood exposed to wind and 
weather for more than fifty years, and the discovery 
of its unsafe condition was made on the centenary of 
the builder's birth. In the following year it was taken 
down, and on New Year's Eve^ a meeting of the 
Herschel family was held within the iron tube, then 
lowered on the ground, to celebrate the end of the 
instrument. Sir John's ballad was sung that night, 
and is now preserved as a printed broadside among 

^ Said in the Memoirs to have been at Ohristmas (p. 810). Different 
in Arago, Biographies, 171. 


other relics of a famous past in the Royal Observatory 
at Greenwich. 

The Herschelian Telescope Song^ 

Kequiem of the Forty-feet Reflector at Slough, to be sung on the 
New Year's Eve, 1839-40, by Papa, Mama, Madame, and all 
the Little Bodies in the tube thereof assembled : — 

In the old Telescope's tube we sit, 

And the shades of the past around us flit; 

His requiem sing we, with shout and with din. 

While the old year goes out and the new one comes in. 

ChoTUi of Youths and Virgins, 

Merrily, merrily, let us all sing. 

And make the old Telescope rattle and ring. 

Full fifty years did he laugh at the storm, 
And the blast could not shake his majestic form ; 
Now prone he lies where he once stood high, 
And searched the deep heavens with his broad bright eye. 
MeiTily, merrily, &c. 

There are wonders no living wight hath seen. 
Which within this hollow have pictured been ; 
Which mortal record can ne'er recall, 
And are known to Him only who makes them all. 
Merrily, merrily, &c. 

Here watched our father the wintry Night, 
And hiB gaze hath been fed with pre- Adamite light ; 
While planets above him in mystic' dance 
Sent down on his toils a propitious glance. 
Merrily, merrily, &c. 

1 Weld, History of the Royal Society ^ ii. 196. 
' ? circular. 


He has stretched him quietly down at length, 
To bask in the starlight his giant strength ; 
And Time shall here a tough ^ morsel find. 
For his steel-devouring teeth to grind. 
Merrily, merrily, &c. 

He will grind it at last, as grind it he must, 
And its brass and its iron shall be clay and dust; 
But scathless ages^ shall roll away. 
And nurture its frame in its form's decay. 
Merrily, merrily, &c 

A new year dawns and the old year's past, 
God send us a happy one like the last, 
A little more sun and a little less rain. 
To save us from cough and rheumatic pain. 
Merrily, merrily, &c. 

God grant that its end this group may find 
In love and in harmony fondly joined ; 
And that some of us fifty years hence, once more, 
May make the old Telescope's echoes roar. 

Chorus, fortissimo. 

Merrily, merrily, let us all sing. 

And make the old Telescope rattle and ring. 

Where the great telescope raised its eye heaven- 
ward, a church has been built to direct men's thoughts 
to do what brother and sister long did in loving 
fellowship, "mind the heavens." It was a fitting 
consecration of the hallowed ground. In speaking of 
his magnificent work in 1813, Herschel said to Thomas 
Campbell the poet, " with an air, not of the least pride, 
but with a greatness and simplicity of expression that 
struck me with wonder, 'I have looked farther into 

? rough, ' ? rays. 


space than ever human being did before me. I have 
observed stars, of which the light takes two miUiona 
of years to travel to this globe/ " The Church is a 
telescope that looks, or should look, even farther into 
space and time. 

While Herschel was giving life and power to the 
reflecting telescope, DoUond's followers in this country 
and Fraunhofer in Germany were restoring the re- 
fractor to the place from which it had been deposed. 
In 1825 the finest refractor that, up to that time, the 
world had ever seen was erected for Struve at the 
expense of the Russian Government in Dorpat. The 
tube was 13 feet in length, and the object-glass was 
9 Paris inches in diameter. The weight of the 
whole was about 3000 Russian pounda Of his first 
look through it Struve says: "I stood astonished 
before this beautiful instrument, undetermined which 
to admire most, the beauty and elegance of the work- 
manship in its most minute parts, the propriety of its 
construction, the ingenious mechanism for moving it, or 
the incomparable optical power of the telescope, and 
the precision with which objects are defined" ^ He 
was proud of his assistant. He believed it to be the 
equal of Herschels 40-f eet reflector, and it was certainly 
far more easy to work. With its help he continued 
the work Herschel began. It appears, however, that 
Herschel sometimes used a parabolical glass mirror of 
7-f eet focal length instead of the metal mirror,^ avoiding 
by reflection the colours due to refraction. This 
should be remembered to his credit. 

* Astronom, Trans, il 94, 2 pj^^^ Trans, for 1303, p. 228, 



The writer who described Herschers papers as " lively 
and amusing " may have intended a sneer, but he did 
a great wrong to inquiries and facts 843 novel as they 
were inspiring. Whatever helps to lift man's thoughts 
above the littlenesses of life and time is a distinct gain 
to the human race, altogether irrespective of the uses 
to which, in course of time, it may be applied. 
Herschel's papers on The Construction of the Heavens 
were of this nature. They were among the first he 
wrote ; they were also among the last. He wrote at 
least • eight papers on the subject, covering three 
hundred and thirty quarto pages: he began the 
series in 1784, he finished it in 1818, and he left 
the work as a legacy to his son, who nobly honoured 
his father's memory by doing for the southern hemi- 
sphere what the father did for the northern. Even 
though these labours had been nothing more than an 
attempt on man's part to penetrate the workshop of 

1 This is Herschel's own phrase, taken probably from the notice of 
Tiolemy' a Almagest (145 a.d.) in Lalande's Agronomy (1771 a.d.), 
where its title is given in Latin, Magna Constructio (i. 156). The 
phrase does not deserve the condemnation it received from an Edin- 
burgh Reviewer in January 1803 ; but a later Reviewer accepts it in 
July 1848, '*to use a phrase which Sir W. Herschel introduced" 
(p. 105). *' Introduced " is scarcely correct. 



nature and ascertain the hidden processes of an 
Almighty Worker, they would have been invaluable 
as a serviceable hypothesis for future efforts. Boldly 
and with all reverence, he set himself to open the 
closed hand of Almighty Wisdom, and find what that 
Power had kept hid. Others laboured in this cause 
before him, but " we are indebted solely to the genius 
and industry of Dr. Herschel for perfecting their 
sagacious views, and supporting them by a body of 
evidence amounting nearly to demonstration."^ 

The first point he laid down was that there is 
ample reason "strongly to suspect that there is not, 
in strictness of speaking, one fixed star in the 
heavens." Fixed stars is a name we have been led 
to use, because, unlike the planets or wanderers, 
they seem never to change their places in the sky; 
but absolute rest in any one of these stars is im- 
possible except, it may be, as a result of nicely 
balanced forces. Herschel was beginning in 1783 a.d. 
at the same starting-point as the famous Hipparchus 
nearly two thousand years before, who "observed a 
new star which appeared in his own day, and which 
led him to believe that the same thing might happen 
frequently, and that the stars considered fixed might 
be in motion." * The proper motion, as it is called, of 
some of the brightest stars was suspected nearly a 
century before Herschel's time and was afterwards 
fully proved. What the nature of that motion may 
be, might be guessed by astronomers, but was really 

^ Sir David Brewster in his edition of Ferguson's Astronomy (1823), 
iL 298. He is referring specially to nebulae, of which Herschel ** observed 
the position, magnitude, and structure of no fewer than 2500," 

» Lalande, i. 152 ; Pliny, u. 26. 



a fruitful field for genius and perseverance to culti- 
vate. "Its causes and laws are hid for the present 
in almost equal obscurity," was the judgment of Dr. 
Maskelyne, then Astronomer-Royal ; but it pointed to 
changes among the stars, which a shrewd observer 
would endeavour to ascertain and account for. 
Herschel undertook the work. Availing himself of a 
catalogue of 2884 stars published in 1723 by Flam- 
steed, the first Astronomer-Royal, he compared the 
heavens of his own day with the appearance they 
presented then. He had no star charts such as 
astronomers have since constructed, and which, when 
compared with a revised edition a century hence, may 
reveal much that is at present dark regarding the 
motions and destiny of the small but beautiful home 
of our shortlived race. He had no photographic 
plates to expose or consult. From beginning to end 
it was eye-labour and hand-labour with this intrepid 
traveller among these far-away suns. So laborious 
was the comparison that he had "many a night, in 
the course of eleven or twelve hours of observation, 
carefully and singly examined not less than 400 
celestial objects, besides taking measures of angles 
and positions of some of them with proper micro- 
meters, and sometimes viewing a particular star for 
half an hour together, with all the various powers of 
his telescope." During that interval of sixty years he 
found that stars had been lost or had vanished, that 
they had undergone some capital change of position or 
magnitude, or had come into sight where they were 
not previously seen, although " it is not easy to prove 
a star to be newly come" into any part of the sky. 
If a star suddenly shone out so as to attract the eyes 


of the common people, where a practised observer was 
sure there was no star visible an hour or two before, 
was he to conclude that it had flared up as if it were 
on fire, and that it would go out as the fire died down ? 
Or, if he saw a star brightening, paling, going out, and 
brightening again every three or four days, or weeks 
or months, or every three or four years, was he to 
infer that dark bodies of vast size were thrusting 
themselves between that distant sun and our eyes, 
eclipsing it, in fact; or that immense reaches of un- 
lighted space, or dark regions on its surface, were 
turned for a time towards us, as it revolved on its 
axis? Dark spots on a sunny star's surface and a 
rotation more or less rapid were the causes accepted 
by Herschel from previous astronomers for this change 
of brightness in what are called changing or variable 
stars. He examined seven that were then known. 
Their periods were 3, 5, 6, 7, 331, 394, and 497 days.^ 
He felt, however, that his views were discredited by 
the sudden bound from 7 days to 331. Unless a star 
were found bridging the gulf between these two, he 
would not have had confidence to give his theory to 
the world. But the star a Herculis seemed to him 
to bridge the gap, and satisfy the theory. Its period 
was found to be about 60 days. These and other 
changes on the face of the heavens, known for many 
years and registered in books, formed Herschel's pre- 
lude to the work he had set his heart on, The Con- 
atruction of the Heavens. That they are a building, 
a wonderful temple consecrated to Almighty Power 
and Wisdom, he never doubted. To discover the plan 

^ Phil. Trans. (1796), pp. 456-56. Professor Holden gives the 
numbers as 8, 5, 6, 7, 884, 404, and 494 (p. 183). 


on which the All- wise Worker proceeded was his aim 
and ambition. 

Stars had been seen by Flamsteed which Herschel 
could no longer find. A century had elapsed, and 
Herschel put these stars down as " lost." He meant 
that a star thus noted was not to be seen when he 
looked for it, " but that possibly at some future time, 
if it be a changeable or periodical star, it may come to 
be visible again." In other cases he entered in his 
journal the remark, " Does not exist," when Flamsteed 
had not himself seen the star. Herschel, however, 
does not appear to have considered that these "lost 
stars" may have been comets, or wanderers like his 
own Uranus, or specks like the numerous body of 
asteroids and satellites, that were then undiscovered. 
In a paper written at a later period he found that 
he had treated as faultless a catalogue of stars which 
required correction. His conclusions regarding lost 
or changing stars were thus premature. But neither 
the poetic beauty nor the possibility of a " lost " star 
can be denied. Perhaps he was only borrowing a 
phrase that was used nearly two thousand years 
earlier by Hipparchus, who, by his catalogue of the 
fixed stars, gave future generations the means of 
ascertaining " if stars could be lost and reappear, if 
they changed their place, their size, their brightness." 

Dissatisfied with the principles on which stars 
visible to the naked eye are classed, according to 
their brightness, as stars of the first, or second down 
to the sixth magnitude, he began, about 1782, to 
adopt a new and more effective but certainly a very 
laborious method of settling degrees of brightness 
among the stars, and of determining to what extent 


the brightness changed from year to year, or from 
age to age. By this method actual inspection would 
at once decide whether a star was increasing or 
diminishing in brightness compared with other stars. 
It was an attempt to ascertain the advance of life 
or the vigour of youth, the beginnings of decay or 
the promise of a long continuance of brightness 
among the countless suns in creation. Of the import- 
ance of these investigations he entertained no doubt, 
nor should we. " The great number of alterations of 
stars that we are certain have happened within the 
last two centuries, and the much greater number 
that we have reason to suspect to have taken place," 
are curious features in the history of the heavens, 
as curious as the slow wearing away of the landmarks 
of our earth on mountains, on river banks, on ocean 
shores. "If we consider how little attention has 
formerly been paid to this subject," he goes on to 
say, " and that most of the observations we have 
are of a very late date, it would perhaps not appear 
extraordinary were we to admit the number of 
alterations, that have probably happened to different 
stars, to be a hundred ; this compared with the number 
of stars that have been examined, with a view to 
ascertain their changes, which we can hardly rate 
at three thousand,^ will give us a proportion of 1 to 

^ The most ancient catalogue of the stars is that of Ptolemy (140 a.d.) 
of Alexandria, which was probably a revised transcript of that of 
Hipparchns (160 B.O.)* It contains 1022 stars. Tycho's catalogue 
(1572 A.D.) contains 777 principal stars, to which Kepler afterwards 
added 280, taken probably from Tycho's own manuscripts. Hevelius 
(1690 A.i>.) published a catalogue containing 950 stars of former lists, 
603 observed by himself, and 377 southern stars observed by Halley 
from Saint Helena. * ' But the most perfect and the largest catalogue 


30 . . . even 1 to 300 is suflSciently striking to 
draw our attention." These were the words of a 
wise observer, uttered long before geologists had 
begun to use similar language in their own researches. 
The conclusion which Herschel drew from these 
alterations, real or imagined, in the light of the stars 
was that they will "much lessen the confidence we 
have hitherto placed upon the permanency of the equal 
emission of light of our sun. Many phenomena in 
natural history seem to point out some past changes 
in our climates. Perhaps the easiest way of account- 
ing for them may be to surmise that our sun has been 
formerly sometimes more and sometimes less bright than 
it is at present. At all events it will be highly pre- 
sumptuous to lay any great stress upon the stability of 
the present order of things; and many hitherto unac- 
countable varieties that happen in our seasons, such as a 
general severity or mildness of uncommon winters or 
burning summers, may possibly meet with an easy solu- 
tion in the real inequality of the sun's rays." If our 
sun be a variable star diffusing heat in greater or less 
degrees at different times, or if it be a star growing 
old and burning out, the credit of the idea as well 
as of " lost " stars in the ocean of infinitude may justly 
be claimed, in our day at least, for this poetic and 
musical observer of the heavens. To shed a ray of 
light on this question of sunshine Herschel sought, 
but sought in vain, for temperatures in ages that were 
past. He could get none. He was not aware of 
the thermometers made by the school of Qalileo 

which had been made" was the British catalogue published by 
Flamsteed in 1712, and afterwards in better condition in 1725. It 
contains about 3000 stars. See Lalande, i. 284. 


and lost to sight till Libri discovered them, and 
made them the common property of science. But, 
resolved not to be baffled, Herschel turned to the 
rise and fall of the price of wheat at Windsor as an 
indication of the warmth or coldness of the sun's 
rays. It was his only resource, and it was an idea 
worthy of a baffled man of science. But critics in 
the highest quarters attacked and ridiculed this seeker 
after truth as if he were guilty of supreme folly. 
Leaders of thought in every branch of science and 
in every department of life have to b^ar the brunt 
of ridicule from learned ignorance ! ^ 

These were the first steps taken by Herschel, it may 
be said, in his quest after the plan on which Almighty 
Wisdom built the world of suns and systems. A 
farther step forward was made when he addressed 
himself to ascertain the motion of the sun and solar 
system through space. That there was such a motion 
he did not doubt. Some had held the same faith 
before him; astronomers as able had refused it a 
hearing. He converted it from faith to fact What 
it means is that our sun with his most distant planet 
and comet, with every particle of matter that owns 
his sway, is travelling onward through space, round 
a centre of force apparently, and constrained by 
Newton's law of gravitation. Are these facts or 
fancies, leading features in the plan of creation or 
dreams of a mere enthusiast? Herschel not only 
believed they were facts ; he set himself to prove it. 

^ The tables he took advantage of were those given by Adam Smith 
in The Wealth of Nations. The ridicule that was heaped upon him 
may be seen in the Edinburgh RevieWy and in a letter signed J. M., 
Scots Magazine, 1807, p. 829. 


When he had proceeded some way in his inquiries, 
he received from a friend a copy of a catalogue of 
eighty stars made by Mayer of Gottingen in 1756, 
"and compared with the same stars as given by 
Eoemer in 1706." Both Roemer and Mayer were men 
of the highest ability. Previously he knew this 
catalogue only in an extract which he found in a 
French book on astronomy. Setting to work on the 
new material thus furnished, and laying aside thirteen 
or fourteen of the stars as those he had already 
examined, he separated the others into two classes, 
those which went for his view of a motion of the 
sun through space, and those whose motions "must 
be ascribed to a real motion in the stars themselvea" 
Mayer, admirable astronomer though Herschel admitted 
him to be, did not countenance the idea of a motion 
of the sun with all its planets through space. 
" Were it so," he wrote in 1760, " were the sun and 
all the planets and our home, the earth, advancing 
towards some quarter, all the stars in that part of 
the heavens would seem to open out, and those in the 
opposite quarter to come together, just as, when you 
are walking through a wood, the trees which are 
in front of you seem to separate from each other, 
and those which are behind to draw closer." 
Herschel, seizing on Mayers illustration of trees in 
a wood, declared that these very changes were taking 
place among stars in the heavens. At the same time 
he was encouraged by a short tract sent him by the 
author. Dr. Alexander Wilson, Professor of Astronomy 
at Glasgow, and printed in 1777, entitled Thoughts 
on General Chravitation and Views tlience arising as to 
the State of the Universe. A friendship sprang up 


between the two men, and Glasgow seems to have 
become a favourite place of summer pilgrimage to 
Herschel. It was clear that he was favoured by the 
flowing tide of scientific thought. He took it at the 
flood: he even guided it into the channels along 
which it has since flowed in an ever increasing 
volume. It " is an arduous task," he said of this quest 
after our solar system's movement in space, " which we 
must not hope to see accomplished in a little time ; but 
we are not to be discouraged from the attempt. Let 
us, at all events, endeavour to lay a good foundation 
for those who are to come after us." And this 
good foundation, by precept and example, he did lay. 

With the boldness of a man who had confidence 
in himself and his instruments, he wrote: "I think 
we are no more authorised to suppose the sun at 
rest than we should be to deny the diurnal motion 
of the earth, except in this respect, that the proofs 
of the latter are very numerous, whereas the former 
rests only on a few, though capital testimonies." He 
founded this conclusion on a discussion of the motions 
observed in seven of the principal fixed stars. But 
in support of his view he also quoted a table of the 
proper motions of twelve stars in fifty years given 
by Lalande, motion in the two directions known to 
astronomers as right ascension and declination, cor- 
responding to longitude and latitude on the earth. 
Twenty-seven motions altogether had to be accounted 
for. On the hypothesis of a general movement of 
the solar system through space, twenty-two out of 
these twenty-seven movements were explained. The 
live exceptions he "resolved into the real proper 
motion of the stars." He did not then know whether 


the motion was of one star round a companion star, or 
round some far greater and immensely more distant sun. 

The conclusion which Herschel arrived at was that 
the whole solar system was at that time moving to- 
wards the constellation Hercules in the northern sky, 
and that the star " X Herculis is possibly as well chosen 
as any we can fix upon in that part of the heavens *' 
for the point we are moving towards. He modified 
this view in 1804 on receiving more correct measure- 
ments from the Astronomer - Boyal : " It will be 
necessary to mention that I have no longer supposed 
the solar motion to be directed towards X Herculia 
A point at no very great distance from this star 
has been chosen." As the direction of the tangent to 
the sun's orbit is constantly changing, this change 
of direction from age to age is unavoidable. He 
did not attempt to estimate precisely the rate of 
motion, but, " in a general way," he considered that 
it "cannot certainly be less than that which the 
earth has in her annual orbit." At the same time 
he expected that future astronomers would assist him 
in determining the direction of the solar motion ; and 
he added that he had " begun a series of observations 
upon several zones of double stars," with the view 
of establishing or overturning his hypothesis. His 
estimate of the rate of the sun's motion may not 
be correct. Probably it is only from five to nine 
miles a second, or less than half what he made it: 
but science has accepted his view of the point, to 
which the solar system has, for an hundred years, 
been advancing. Recently a Lyrss (Vega) has been 
claimed as the point we are now making for. 

In the years that followed his first papers on The 


Construction of the Heavens, Herschel, with wider 
views, a better instrument, and a clearer insight 
into what he considered "the Laboratories of the 
universe, wherein the most salutary remedies for the 
decay of the whole are prepared," essayed a bolder 
flight into a world of "things, unattempted yet in 
prose or rhyme." Stars, clusters of stars, and nebulas 
were the building stones, so to speak, out of which 
Almighty Wisdom constructed the starry sphere 
around our earth. How many of them exist, what 
are their relations to each other, and how are they 
arranged in space ? were some of the questions to which 
he sought an answer. When he began the work of 
observation, he " surmised that several nebulae might 
yet remain undiscovered for want of sufficient light to 
detect them. . . . The event has plainly proved that 
my expectations were well founded; for I have 
already found 466 new nebulas and clusters of stars, 
none of which, to my present knowledge, have been 
seen before by any person." Great though the dis- 
covery was, it was only the beginning of others 
still greater. These nebulae or little white clouds 
were similar to the Milky Way in the colour of their 
light, but apparently of immensely less extent. The 
first known of them, properly so called, was that of 
Andromeda, to which the attention of astronomers 
was directed by Simon Marius in 1612. Others 
were seen and recorded during the next century 
and a half, but the Magellanic clouds were visible 
to the naked eye and formed a striking spectacle 
in the southern heavens. The Dutch, who saw them 
in their voyages to India round South Africa, called 
them the Clouds of the Cape. Astronomers were 


slowly feeling their way to a fuller knowledge of the 
"white clouds" they were discovering among the 
stars. La Caille, when working at a catalogue of 
about ten thousand stars in South Africa, set down the 
places of forty-two, which he saw in the telescope. 
He divided them into three classes ; fourteen in which 
there was no appearance of stars ; fourteen which were 
clearly composed of small stars ; and fourteen which 
combined the characters of both these classes, small 
stars surrounded or attended by white spots. His 
labours were published in 1755. Herschel followed at 
the end of the century, vastly extended our know- 
ledge of these singular objects, and completed the 
classification which the Frenchman began. 

Turning his attention to the broad band of light 
known as the Milky Way, of which the various 
nebulsB " seemed to be portions, spread out in diflcrent 
parts of the heavens," Herschel at once solved the 
puzzle that then divided the astronomical world. Is 
it the diffused light of innumerable stars, or a shining 
gas ? He describes it as beyond doubt " a most 
extensive stratum of stars of various sizes " ; and 
" that our sun is actually one of the heavenly bodies 
belonging to it is as evident." These were two steps 
forward, but he did not stop with them. He examined 
that shining zone in all directions with a powerful 
telescope — a 20 - feet reflector — piercing to the 
borders of its length, breadth, and thickness. He 
even undertook to count the number of stars he 
saw. He called this census of stars gauging the 
heavens. Four years afterwards, he called it analys- 
ing them, and spoke of his method as " perhaps the 
only one by which we can arrive at a knowledge 


of their construction." He admits, however, that, in 
course of time, "many things must have been sug- 
gested by the great variety in the order, the size, 
and the compression of the stars as they presented 
themselves to his view." As the number of stars he 
counted increased, the brightness of the Milky Way 
increased; as the number diminished, its apparent 
brightness to the naked eye diminished also. The law 
of gravitation he felt certain existed among that vast 
multitude of suns and systems, just as it exists in 
pulling a stone to the ground. At first this was 
mere suspicion. More than twenty years elapsed 
before he could say it was an established fact. 

He continued his review of the heavens, or his 
gauging of the stars. The results were so marvellous 
that all the world — men of science, the common 
people, even children at school — wondered. Some- 
times he saw, in a small celestial space, as many 
as 250, or 340, or 424, or 588 stars; at other times 
he counted only 3 or 4, 5 or 6. The star-wealth 
of some of these regions was so vast that in one 
only 5** in breadth — a very small part of the whole 
vault of the heavens — there were about 330,000 
shining suns or stars! The Chancellor of the 
University of Halle, who visited Herschel shortly 
before his death, evidently got from the astronomer 
himself that he had " often known more than 50,000 
pass before his sight within an hour," and he records 
his own wonder, and the wonder of men generally, 
while these discoveries were still fresh in their minds, 
that "after the invention of his instruments, I. H. 
Schroeter, the celebrated astronomer of Lilienthal, 
might well compute the fixed stars in the southern 


and northern hemispheres at more than twelve 
millions in number." 

The average of many hundreds of these gauges 
gave him what he called " the contents of the heavens." 
Where the stars were exceedingly crowded, " no more 
than half a field was counted, and even sometimes 
only a quadrant " ; but the result of these vast labours 
was that the Milky Way could not be described as 
other than "a very exten&ive, branching, compound 
congeries of many miUiona of stars; which, most 
probably, owes its origin to many remarkably large 
as well as pretty closely scattered small stars, that 
may have drawn together the rest." Imagination 
stands appalled at the thought of millions of shining 
stars, each of the same kindred as our sun, and each, it 
may be supposed, with a train of habitable worlds like 
his planets, all circling round their central orb. The 
littleness of man, the smallness of human life, the 
meanness of its petty details, that usually fill the 
whole horizon of human thought, are dwarfed into 
nothingness in presence of these stupendous realities, 
till even they become insignificant before the nobler 
and more inspiring conception of the grandeur of 
the soul, which measures and weighs these innumer- 
able suns, which takes them up in the hollow of its 
hand, which deals with them as playthings for its 
leisure moments, and which says to every one of 
them, I am greater and of more worth than thou, 
yes, greater than all your millions put together. 
" There is no speech nor language where their voice 
is not heard." 

By these star gauges Herschel did a service to the 
world, for which humanity can never be suflSciently 


thankful. The plan as well as the labour of thus 
estimating " the contents of the heavens," and lifting 
man's mind to a higher level than it ever attained 
before, were altogether his own, unless we add that 
his devoted sister Caroline shared the labour and, 
it must be added, the dangers of the work. What 
a vista of eternity and infinitude was unfolded by 
the musician of Bath ! It seemed as if he had built a 
bridge for thought to span the gulf which separates the 
finite from the infinite, the temporal from the eternal, 
in this incredible profusion of suns and systems, of 
inconceivable spaces and times. 

Of the length, breadth, and thickness of these strata 
of millions of stars that form the Milky Way, we have 
but the faintest conception. Still, Herschel made an 
estimate, which shows the immensity of space covered 
by this island of stars in the ocean of infinitude, if we 
may still presume to speak of it in these terms. '' In 
the sides of the stratum opposite to our situation in 
it, where the gauges often run below 5, our nebula " — 
the white cloud called the Milky Way — " cannot ex- 
tend to 100 times the distance of Sirius.*' But we 
know now, what Herschel did not know, that light, 
which darts from the sun to our earth in eight minutes, 
takes about ten years at the same rate to travel 
the distance betwin Sinus and us. One hundred times 
that distance would be traversed by light in 1000 
years. And, if the f arthest-off stars of the Milky Way 
are nearly five hundred times as far away from our 
earth as Sirius, the swift messenger who brings us 
tidings of them would be five thousand years on his 
journey, and could only tell us what was then taking 
place, opt what may be happening now. Herschel 


believed that his telescope sounded sjpace to this and 
far greater depths without finding traces of nebulosity 
— ^gas or star dust — in the regions it reached.^ He said 
also that his telescope sounded the depths of past 
time not less than of space. Be his ideas reality or 
romance, they give us a sublime conception of the 
greatness and worth of the human mind buried in its 
pigmy house of clay, and chafing against the chains 
that bind it to earth and time. 

Sublime though Herschel's conceptions were, he did 
not conceal from himself or others that "a certain 
degree of doubt may be left about the arrangement 
and scattering of the stars " in the Milky Way. They 
were founded on the supposition of " numberless stars 
of various sizes, scattered over an indefinite portion of 
space in such a manner as to be almost equally dis- 
tributed throughout the whole." This was a large 
supposition to make; it is not correct, and it was a 
comer-stone that might be knocked away at any 
moment. The barriers he required to overleap were 
the distance and the relative sizes of the stars. These 
barriers remained insurmountable during his lifetime. 
It was next assumed, for it could not be said to be 
proved, that "there is but little room to expect a 
connection between our nebula" — ^the Milky Way — 
"and any of the neighbouring ones; . . . for if our 
nebula is not absolutely a detached one, I am firmly 
persuaded that an instrument may be made large 
enough to discover the places where the stars continue 
onwards. A very bright, milky nebulosity must there 
undoubtedly come on." At that time Herschel imag- 
ined space to be a vast ocean of light-bearing ether, 

* PhU, Trans,, pp. 249, 247 (100 times), 497 times. 


studded with continents and islands of stars, which he 
called nebulae, clusters, or groups. The Milky Way, 
with its many millions of shining suns, is one of these 
thickly peopled islands, separated from many others as 
rich or perhaps richer of worlds, in this infinite ocean. 
Of these nebulae or clusters, or star islands, he had, 
up to that time, counted "more than 900, many of 
which, in all probability, are equally extensive with 
that which we inhabit ; and yet they are all separated 
from each other by very considerable intervals. Some 
there are that seem to be double and treble; and 
though with most of these it may be that they are 
at a very great distance from each other, yet we allow 
that some such conjunctions really are to be found. 
But then these compound or double nebules still make a 
detached link in the great chain." He fell from some 
of these views at a later period, wholly or in part. 

Herschel delighted in these attractive speculations. 
In a paper on the power of telescopes to penetrate 
space, one of the conclusions he came to was that, 
while his 20-feet reflector "might possibly have 
reached to some distance beyond the apparent bounds 
of the Milky Way," his 40-feet would reach stars 
from which light would take about two millions of 
years to reach our earth. A ray of light revealing to 
us the history of stars as it was two millions of years 
ago! If such things are dreams or miscalculations, 
they soar into the sublimest regions of mortal thought. 
More amenable to arithmetic is his calculation, that it 
will require not less than 598 years, of 100 working 
hours each, to take a census of the stars by looking 
with his 40-feet "only one single moment into each 
part of space, and, even then, so much of the southern 



hemisphere will remain unexplored as will take up 
213 years more to examine." In these numbers Her- 
schel was perhaps mistaken. Struve at Pulkowa found 
80 nights suitable out of 120 clear nights; but Sir 
John Herschel's experience at the Cape of Good Hope 
gave him the whole or parts of 131 nights in 1836, 
and at least 100 in the following year. The estimate 
of 598 years, or rather 811, by Sir William Herschel 
may be set down as excessive. 

Herschel does not appear to have been altogether 
satisfied with the position he had taken up. It 
was not warranted by pure and inductive science. 
The foundation on which alone he could build with 
confidence had not been laid, the distance of fixed stars 
and nebulsd. " To these arguments," he says, " which 
rest on the firm basis of a series of observation, we may 
add the following considerations drawn from analogy." 
Science demands something more trustworthy than 
arguments and analogy. Mathematical science is not 
content with probability : it demands demonstration, and 
this he could not give. He had a distinct idea of an 
ocean, we shall say, of ether, transmitting light. In that 
ocean are thousands of floating islands, each composed 
of myriads or millions of shining worlds, all communi- 
cating with each other by far-piercing sunbeams. 
What the telegraphic messages thus sent from sun to 
sun, from island to island, may be, Herschel had no 
means at first of knowing. He came to understand 
and even read some of these messages in later years. 
We are able to read more of them now, for they tell 
the sizes of suns, their rates of motion, their direction 
of motion, and other pieces of star history incredibly 
interesting to curious man. Herschel did not imagine 


that this ocean of ether is in any degree impervious 
to light. His friend Dr. Olbers, of Bremen, suggested 
that it might be. Precisely as the glass or the horn, 
through which rays of light pass, keeps part of them 
back or absorbs them, the infinite ocean of ether may 
have a similar efiect, though in a vastly less degree. 
This apprehension remains a mere speculation to this 
day. Sometimes these islands of stars were broken 
into clusters of stars showing magnificent colours, 
and forming the most splendid objects that can be 
seen in the heavens. They seemed to concentrate 
round a centre. The Milky Way is one of these islands, 
of which the population consists in suns and worlds. 
Others, separated from it and from each other, and 
even apparently changing their shape from age to age, 
are " generally seen upon a very clear and pure ground 
without any star near them that might be supposed to 
belong to them." With all this sublimity of exposition 
and explanation, Herschel at the same time asks for con- 
sideration from critics and readers, ''for, this subject 
being so new, I look upon what is here given partly as 
only an example to illustrate the spirit of the method." 
The idea Herschel formed and then figured of the 
shape of the Milky Way may be best understood 
by comparing it to the palm of the hand with only 
two fingers — the middle and the forefinger — and these 
stretched fully out. Our sun he supposed to be near 
the roofcs of the fingers, looking out into open space 
through the interval between them. He had the idea 
also that our star-island " has fewer marks of antiquity 
upon it than the rest." He believed that its stars 
" are now drawing towards various secondary centres, 
and will in time separate into different clusters so as 


to occasion many subdivisions." In fact, he " ascribes 
a certain air of youth and vigour to many very re- 
gularly scattered regions in our sidereal stratum." He 
imagined also that " some parts of our system seem to 
have sustained greater ravages of time than others," 
so much so that " in the body of the Scorpion is an 
opening or hole " of at least four degrees broad, through 
which, as through a window, infinite space can be sur- 
veyed outside, till telescopes of greater power pierce the 
darkness, and, it may be, reveal to our eye Milky 
Ways in the far Beyond. One of them, near the con- 
stellation called the Southern Cross, had long been 
familiar to sailors in southern seas as the Coal Sack 
of the Milky Way, a pear-shaped oval almost destitute 
of stars, with which the regions around are crowded 
and brilliant. "The purity and clearness of the 
heavens are remarkable," he says, "when we look 
out of our stratum at the sides towards Leo and 
Virgo on the one hand, and Cetus on the other; 
whereas the ground of the heavens becomes troubled 
as we approach towards the length or height of it." 
These troubled appearances seemed to arise "from 
distant, straggling stars that yield hardly light enough," 
till, after a long examination of these troubled spots, 
the eye gets accustomed to the dimness, and the stars 
that caused the troubling come into view. 

When Sir John Herschel went to the Cape of Good 
Hope in 1833, to survey the southern heavens as his 
father had surveyed the northern half a century before, 
his aunt Caroline wrote to him, " It is not clvMers of 
stars I want you to discover in the body of the Scorpion 
(or thereabout), for that does not answer my expect- 
ation, remembering having once heard your father, 


after a long awful silence, exclaim, * Hier ist wahrhaf tig 
ein Loch in Himmel 1 ' ^ and, as I said before, stopping 
afterwards at the same spot, but leaving it unsatisfied." 
The nephew attended to her wishes, rv/mmaged Scorpio 
with the telescope, and found many blank spaces 
"without the smallest star. . . . Then come on the 
globular clusters, then more blank fields, then suddenly 
the Milky Way comes on in large milky nebulous 
irregular patches and banks." 

Other Milky Ways than the star-island, to which 
we belong, " which cannot well be less but are prob- 
ably much larger," Herschel at one time believed he 
saw in the white clouds, which float in the depths 
of space, unseen by the naked eye. Sometimes his 
telescope resolved them into brilliant star-dust, scat- 
tered like shining jewels on the dark background of 
the heavens : and sometimes not. That they are at im- 
mense, at inconceivable distances from the solar system 
and from each other, is evident. How far, it would 
be rash to say. But Herschel's enthusiasm over- 
leaped all boundaries of prudent reticence. Some of 
them may be " 600 times the distance of Sirius from 
us"; other clusters "cannot well be supposed to be 
at less than six or eight thousand times that distance." 
Light, the swiftest messenger we know, light, which 
can journey round the earth eight times in a second, 
would take six thousand years to bring us a message 
from the nearest of these clusters, or more than eighty 
thousand years from the more remote. If his views 
prove correct, a messenger of wing so swift, and of foot 
so tireless, may well be regarded as an angel of the 

*' Hert indeed is 4 liole in the Heayens ! " 


Speculations so attractive by a watcher with an eye 
so keen to detect chinks in the armour, that concealed 
nature's most secret workings, could not fail to be 
aflTected by new facts, as they forced themselves on his 
observation. He found in course of years that " the 
hypothesis of an equality and an equal distribution of 
stars is too far from being strictly true to be laid down 
as an unerring guide in this research. . . . This con- 
sideration is fully sufficient to shew that, how much 
truth soever there may be in the hypothesis of an 
equal distribution and equality of stars, when con- 
sidered in a general view, it can be of no service in a 
case where great accuracy is required." Fifteen years 
later he wrote : " When we examine the Milky Way, or 
the closely compressed clusters of stars, this supposed 
equality of scattering must be given up." It is clear 
that, until the distance and mutual relations of the 
fixed stars were ascertained, mere speculations on their 
size and brilliance were out of place. He found also 
that Cassini's classification of nebulsd was at least 
incomplete or defective. He was leaning to the belief 
that some of the nebulsB are masses of shining gas, 
while there may be vast masses or regions of it still 
dark ; but these and other matters must be referred to 
another chapter. It is enough in the meanwhile to 
say that twenty-five years of further research wrought 
a change on the views he once expressed. But they 
also brought into distincter prominence the changeful 
character of even the starry heavens. They had 
wrought no change on the awe with which his con- 
temporaries, however trifling they might be, regarded 
" the profusion of worlds on worlds " revealed to their 
view. The immense multiplication of life on our 


little earth is on the same scale and partakes of the 
same procedure as this profusion in creating worlds. 
Unity of design to the remotest bounds of nature is a 
conclusion that plainly results from Herschers dis- 

The worst objection taken to the writings of this 
midnight watcher was the strange English he some- 
times used. "Stupendous as Mr. Herschel's investi- 
gations are," Horace Walpole wrote to a friend, " and 
admirable as are his talents, his expression of 'our 
retired comer of the universe* seems a little improper. 
When a little emmet, standing on its anthill, could get 
a peep into infinity, how could he think he saw a retired 
comer in it? ... If there are twenty millions of 
worlds, why not as many, and as many, and as many 
more ? Oh, one's imagination cracks ! " ^ " To the in- 
habitants of the nebulae of the present catalogue," 
Herschel wrote, "our sidereal system must appear 
either as a small nebulous patch ; an extended streak 
of milky light ; a large resolvable nebula ; a very com- 
pressed cluster of minute stars hardly discernible ; or 
as an immense collection of large scattered stars of 
various sizes." Well may we repeat in sobriety and 
humility what the poet, in contempt and fun, uttered 
about the same time, 

"Oh wad some Power the giftie gie us 
To see oorsels as ithers see us." 

The last two papers which Herschel wrote on The 
Construction of the Heavens were given to the world 
about four years before his death. They show the same 
grasp of details, the same enthusiasm in working, out 

1 Letters, vi. 461, 258. 


a lofty theme, the same insight into general principles, 
as illumined the first paper he wrote on the subject 
thirty-five years before. Although his sun was near- 
ing its going down, there was no loss of its morning 
brilliance. "Of all the celestial objects consisting of 
stars not visible to the eye," he writes, "the Milky 
Way is the most striking. ... Its general appearance, 
without applying a telescope to it, is that of a zone 
surrounding our situation in the solar system, in the 
shape of a succession of differently condensed patches 
of brightness, intermixed with others of a fainter 
tinge." But his latest observations led him to believe 
that the Milky Way is a fathomless, and comparatively 
thin stratum of stars, of which his 40-feet reflector 
would sound the depths " to the 2300th order of dis- 
tances and would then fail us." He imagined also he 
'had "shown how, by an equalisation of the light of 
«tars of different brightness, we may ascertain their 
relative distances from the observer, in the direction 
of the line in which they are seen." Among these last 
words was his expressed conviction that the Milky 
Way is the most brilliant, and beyond all comparison 
the most extensive sidereal system. He thus held to 
the end that it was one of many systems, of which it 
bulked in his eyes as a great continent in an ocean of 
ether, while the nebulae are outlying islands. Within 
the bounds of the Milky Way he believed that all our 
stars, visible to the naked eye, are contained. If an 
18-inch globe represented all these stars, it would 
require a line 45 feet long to be added to express 
the distance of the 734th order of stars, and, while he 
saw many of the 900th or 980th order, he was con- 
vinced that his 40-feet telescope would penetrate space 


to the 2300th order. We can only say with Horace 
Walpole on looking at these figures, One's imagination 
cracks! But definite distances had not been deter- 
mined then, and are not determined yet. 

Whether these be the dreams of an enthusiastic 
romancer, or the sober facts of science, there can be 
no doubt that the observations on which they rest are 
a delightful mixture of poetry and scientific truth. 
Thickly strewn over the pages of a scientific memoir 
are such entries as these: ''The stars are so exceed- 
ingly close and small that they cannot be counted " ; 
" a beautiful cluster of stars " ; " stars are so small that 
I can but just perceive some and suspect others"; 
" light without stars " ; "a brilliant cluster " ; "a coarse 
cluster of large stars of different sizes " ; "a rich cluster 
of very compressed stars." The wealth of the heavens 
passes both the language and the comprehension of 
man. Star-dust, sparkling with more than diamond 
lustre on the dark background of the heavens, has 
become a common figure of speech. Jewels of silver, 
jewels of gold, rubies, diamonds, and sapphires are seen 
in admirably distinct disorder in the ^eat mirror of 
the telescope. The prose of the heavens surpasses the 
brightest poetry of earth.^ 

Whether William Herschel was justified in holding 
to the theory of an ocean of ether with thousands of 
dimly seen Milky Ways floating about in it, or whether 
he modified his view into a belief that the starry 
worlds, seen from our earth, are parts of a connected 
whole, is of little consequence in these days. Perhaps 
he was himself in doubt which view to take. But he 
was nearer to realising infinitude of space and eternity 

1 PM. TVoTW., 1818, pp. 437-50, 


of time— if the phrase be allowable— than any man 
ever was before hL. He marks an era in the p^gress 
of human thought and experience, for his words leave 
on the mind of a reader an awful impression of un- 
speakable vastness in space and time, of multitudinous 
arrangements for working out with singular ease and 
success some vast whole, and of undiscovered purposes 
in the designs of a Being to whose nature ours is of 
kin, though we feel ourselves to be but nothings, or 
less than nothings, in His presence. To ignore or deny 
this impression is to do an injustice to humanity. 



So carefully and persistently was the sun studied by 
Herschel that, for the sake of clearness, it is advisable 
to arrange his work not in the order of time, but 
according to the subject he treats of. He began at 
an early period to watch the sun's face, and to make 
experiments with the view of di8C0veri;g its history, 
past and future. Could he but read that history or 
even a chapter of it, he felt that he would be able to 
read the history of other suns as well as ours, and 
perhaps to lay a foundation for fellow-labourers in 
the same cause to build a temple to science on. He 
succeeded beyond his wishes, or at least his hopes. 

The first thing he endeavoured to ascertain was, 
whether the sun was stationary or nearly stationary 
in the heavens. Astronomers had already discovered 
that its immense fiery globe had a day like our earth, 
that is, that it turned round on its axis precisely as 
the earth does. The time it takes they found to be 
25* 7*» 48°* of our reckoning. This is the length of the 
sun's day. But Herschel asked if the sun had not a 
year as well as a day, a time — vast, immeasurable, 
perhaps — in which it revolves round a centre, hidden 
from man's knowledge, but not from man's sight, if he 
only knew where to look for it. Herschel looked for 


an unknown centre. He did not find it, but he be- 
lieved, as we have already seen, first, that the sun was 
moving among the stars, and second, that it was 
moving towards a spot in the constellation Hercules in 
the northern sky. 

As the sun is the source of light and heat, and both 
of them had to be considered in his observations, it 
was natural that Herschel should turn his thoughts to 
the solar spectrum, as we call what is commonly spoken 
of as the rainbow. A glass prism produces the same 
effect on a beam of sunlight as a raindrop or a cloud 
curtain composed of millions of them: it divides or 
decomposes the white light of one sun into that of 
seven suns of different colours, red, orange, yellow, 
green, blue, indigo, violet, and it also bends or refracts 
them from the straight line the sunbeam would other- 
wise pursue. The red is the least bent, the violet 
most. By the refraction or bending is meant what is 
seen by thrusting one half of a walking-stick into 
water, and keeping the other half out of it in the air. 
But it happened that in shielding his eye from the 
sun when looking at its disc through a telescope, 
Herschel had used glass of various colours to dim the 
glare and heat. This experience was fatal to the use of 
glass coloured red. "I began with a red glass," he 
says, ''and, not finding it to stop light enough, took 
two of them together. These intercepted full as much 
light as was necessary ; but I soon found that the eye 
could not bear the irritation, from a sensation of heat, 
which, it appeared, these glasses did not stop. I now 
took two green glasses : but found that they did not 
intercept light enough. I therefore smoked one of 
them: and it appeared that, notwithstanding they 


still transmitted considerably more light than the red 
glasses, they remedied the former inconvenience of an 
irritation arising from heat. Repeating these trials 
several times, I constantly found the same result." 
How to see the sun distinctly without inconvenience 
or danger from the heat continued to occupy his 
thoughts for years. "I viewed the sun through 
water," he wrote in 1801. " It keeps the heat off so 
well, that we may look for any length of time, with- 
out the least inconvenience." " Ink diluted with water 
gave an image of the sun as white as snow ; and I saw 
objects very distinctly, without darkening glasses." 

Herschel introduced his papers on the sun's light 
and heat with a wise remark, which proved him to be 
as good an observer in the world of mind as in that of 
matter. " It is sometimes of great use in natural philo- 
sophy to doubt of things that are commonly taken 
for granted; especially as the means of resolving any 
doubt, when once it is entertained, are often within 
our reach. ... It will therefore not be amiss to notice 
what gave rise to a surmise, that the power of heating 
and illuminating objects might not be equally distri- 
buted among the variously coloured rays." The ex- 
periments, which he then made on the light and heat 
given out by each colour of the spectrum, were admir- 
ably imagined and beautifully carried out. He was really 
engaged on a continuation of Newton's experiments on 
sunbeams, but the field of research was new and untrod. 
Gradually the questions to which he sought answers 
began to take shape more distinctly in his mind. 
When a prism intercepts a beam of sunlight, let into 
a darkened room through a hole in the window shutter, 
and the band of coloured light, five times as long as it 


is broad, falls on a screen placed behind the prism, is 
the whole band equally heated or equally luminous? and 
is the whole sunbeam found decomposed into the colours 
seen ? Regarding equality of heating and illumination 
in the various colours, HerscheFs experiments made it 
plain that at the red end there are visible rays, which 
are hotter than those in any other part of the coloured 
band or spectrum. The heat he found diminishing as 
the ref rangibility increases from the red to the violet end. 
The power of illuminating an object, on the contrary, 
increases from the red to the orange, from the orange 
to the yellow, and reaches its greatest intensity be- 
tween the yellow and the green, after which it rapidly 
decreases in the blue, more so in the indigo, till it 
becomes "very deficient in the violet." One of his 
experiments, by the help of a microscope, was with a 
guinea : — " Red showed four remarkable points : very 
distinct. Orange, better illuminated: very distinct. 
Yellow, still better illuminated: very distinct: the 
points all over the field of view are coloured; some 
green; some red} some yellow; and some white, en- 
circled with black about them. Between yellow and 
green is the maximum of illumination : extremely dis- 
tinct. Ghreen, as well illuminated as the yellow : very 
distinct. Blv£, much inferior in illumination: very dis- 
tinct. Indigo, badly illuminated : distinct. Violet, very 
badly illuminated : I can hardly see the object at all." 
His second inquiry was. Is a sunbeam passing 
through a prism and received on a screen behind it 
represented entirely by the coloured and visible band 
of the spectrum ? His answer to this question was a 
distinct tio, and a hinted suspicion that the no extended 
or might extend farther than it was in his power to 


prove. He could and did show that a thermometer 
rose in passing from the violet to the red end of the 
spectrum: but he did more. He placed the ther- 
mometer beyond the visible red, and found that, as it 
continued to rise, heat-rays, invisible to the eye and 
less bent from the straight path of the sunbeam, gave 
the greatest heat. He must have asked himself. Is 
there not something similar at the violet end ; but he 
had not the means of answering the question. He did 
what was next best. He asked a question pregnant 
with great results, and destined to bear an abundant 
harvest for the welfare and instruction of man. " It 
may be pardonable if I digress for a moment, and 
remark, that the foregoing researches ought to lead us 
on to others. May not the chemical properties of the 
prismatic colours be as different as those which relate 
to light and heat : . . . they may reside only in one of 
the colours." To this question he could neither give 
nor get an answer. A short time passed, and the 
answer came from Germany and, independently, from 
England. " The existence of solar rays accompanying 
light, more refrangible than the violet rays, and 
cognisable by their chemical effects, was first 
ascertained by Mr. Bitter." They were called "The 
dark rays of Ritter," and " appeared to extend beyond 
the violet rays of the prismatic spectrum, through a 
space nearly equal to that which is occupied by the 
violet." "Paper dipped in a solution of nitrate of 
silver" was used to prove the existence of these 
chemical rays and to introduce the days of photo- 
graphy. It was most fitting that it should be so. 
An astronomer led the way in this new quest after 
invisible rays ; chemistry supplemented his discoveries 


by paving the way for photography, and paid back its 
debt to astronomy by shortening the processes of its 
art, and faithfully recording the face of the heavens, 
as the most skilful draughtsman could not do. Truly, 
Herschel was a seer, whose imagination captured 
truth, though men less gifted mocked him as a dreamer. 
The equerry in Windsor Castle was justified in assur- 
ing Miss Burney that time would do justice to Herschel, 
as it had done to Newton. 

Herschel's mistakes, in his subsequent inquiries, arose 
largely from his belief in Newton's theory that light- 
giving bodies, like the sun, emit infinitely small 
particles, which enter the eye and affect the retina so 
as to produce vision. Hence he spoke of the momenta 
of these particles. His contemporary. Dr. Thomas 
Young, maintained that light, like air, was produced 
by waves propagated at a vast rate of speed, and in 
immensely short lengths, through a universally diflftised 
and infinitely rare medium, called ether} A French- 
man, Fresnel, has got most of the credit of establishing 
this theory. But the third question asked and 
answered by Herschel in these papers about the 
sun was. Is light the same or different from heat? 
His experiments were carefully arranged and as 
carefully made, and the conclusion reached was that 
they are different. He also wrote two long papers on 
the coloured rings produced when two watch-glasses, 
or one and a plane glass, are pressed together so as to 
leave a thin plate of air between them. Amid un- 

^ Dr. Young, **The Bakerian Lecture, PhU. Trails, for 1802, pp. 
14, 15, '* A luniuiferous ether pervades the universe, rare and elastic in 
a high degree." He was well abused by an Edinburgh Reviewer for 
this Lecture. 


undoubtedly excellent observations he was too hasty in 
what he then wrote, and too rash in the conclusions 
he then drew. But let it be recorded to his honour 
that to him belongs the credit of first sending the 
beams of Sirius and other sunny stars through a prism, 
for the purpose of determining whether their light is 
like our sun's or not. It was a most brilliant idea, 
carried out before the world was ready to receive it. 

The great question Herschel set himself to solve 
regarding the sun was, What is it ? He knew, as all 
men had known, that it was a vast fiery ball ruling 
earth and sky ; but he saw, as they saw, nothing save 
the outside of the ball. Was it a mighty furnace 
within as it was without ? In Newton's days, two or 
three generations earlier, there were people who 
" supposed the sun to be cold," although Newton easily 
showed that, to "a body hard by the sun, his heat 
would be 50,000 times greater than we feel it in a hot 
smnmer day, which is vastly greater than any heat we 
know on earth." ^ Herschel was aware that the spots, 
the black spots on its face, were vast dark holes in its 
white brightness, so large that they would let the 
earth dive in, and be at a thousand miles' distance 
all round from the burning, blazing clouds. But while 
he knew this, he had also learned from the writings of 
others that these black rifts were careering over its face 
from west to east at the rate of more than a mile 
every second. What did it all mean, was the question 
he wished answered. Fabricius in 1611, and Galileo 
about the same time, divide between them the honour 
of discovering these spots on the sun's face. The 
former tells the story of his first sight of a spot, of his 

^ Brewster, Life^ ii. 455. 


own and his father's keenness in viewing it till the 
heat affected their eyes, of his extreme impatience till 
morning again revealed to him in the sun itself what 
he thought was only a cloud, and of the incredible 
delight with which he welcomed the strange stain on 
the sun's brightness, but removed a little from the 
place where it was seen the day before — he tells a true 
story with the pen of a romancer inventing a world of 
wonders. The darkened room, the hole in the shutter, 
the sheet of white paper to receive the bright image, 
and the sun's rotation on his axis then burst upon the 
world in his pages. 

Some imagined that these vast fields of darkness 
were smoke from gigantic volcanoes on the sun; 
others considered them to be a mighty expanse of 
scum floating on a burning ocean, or dark clouds 
swimming in highly heated gas. But Herschel's tele- 
scope told him they were immense pits dug somehow 
in the shining and fiery brightness, while waves of 
fiercer brightness surged round the edges in crests of 
vast height, for which the name facuLce, or torches, had 
been long before invented. Over many million of 
square miles of the sun's surface this rising of 
fiercely heated waves and this digging out of black 
hollows were continually going on in a greater or 
lesser degree. As many as forty of the latter were 
once seen by Herschel, when he was watching 
Mercury, so to speak, picking his way amongst 
them during his passage across the sun's disc. 
Other observers laid claim to counting no fewer than 
fifty at one and the same time. What were they? 
In July 1643 Hevelius saw a procession of spots and 
bright crests more than a third of the sun's surface in 


length, or nearly twice as far as the distance of the 
moon from the earth ! Then spots were seen of such a 
depth that when they reached the sun's edge they 
made a notch on the rim. It was evident they were 
not volcanoes spouting forth solid matter to immense 
heights and blackening with solar smoke the photo- 
sphere, as Schroeter called the envelope of light which 
clothed the sun. They were not dark bodies like 
planets circling round this fiery ball. Nor were they 
masses of black scum floating on an ocean of bright- 
ness. In 1779 Herschel saw a great spot which 
appeared to be divided into two parts. One of them 
was more than thirty-one thousand miles in length, 
the other was about twenty thousand, and a ridge of 
shining light separated the one from the other. Four 
years later he observed another, "a fine large spot," 
and followed it to the edge of the sun. He came to 
the conclusion that he was looking into a vast pit, 
with " very broad, shelving sides," on to " the real solid 
body of the sun itself." Eight years after, in 1791, he 
came to the same conclusion regarding another large 
spot: it was a pit below the level of the bright 
surface ; round the dark part it had a broad margin 
less bright than the surface, and also lower down. 
Accompanying the spots were the facvXce, as Hevelius 
called " the ridges of elevation above the rough surface " 
of the sun. " About all the spots the shining matter 
seemed to have been disturbed; and was uneven, 
lumpy, and zigzagged in an irregular manner." 
These waves or ridges of brightness are of immense 
extent, but Herschel objected to call them torches, as 
"they appeared like the shrivelled elevations on a 
dried apple, extended in length, and most of them 


joined together, making waves, or waving lines." In 
1801 he had advanced to the "strong suspicion that 
one half of our sun is less favourable to a copious 
emission of rays than the other ; and that its variable 
lustre may possibly appear to other solar systems, as 
irregular periodical stars are seen by us/' In the same 
paper he records in his observations that he counted at 
one time 45 " openings " or spots, on the following day 
50, and three days later above 60. A cloud, hanging 
over one of these openings, was seen to move a third of 
the way across the mighty chasm in fifty-eight minutes. 
Herschel's theory of the sun then may be thus 
stated. There is first the region of "luminous solar 
clouds " which, adding also the elevation of the facuUB, 
cannot be less than 1843, nor much more than 2765 
miles in depth. These solar clouds he compares in 
density with the aurora borealis of our skies. Under- 
neath this envelope of brightness is the sun's atmo- 
sphere, which may be so clouded as to shield the body 
of the sun and the beings, who live there, from the 
intense heat and glare above. The body of the sun 
lies still lower, and " is diversified with mountains and 
valleys." Some may deem it the horrid abode of lost 
souls ; others may see in its cool retreats the home of 
blessed spirits. But so imbued is man's mind with the 
idea of unbearable heat in the sun that, in a court of 
law, belief in its coolness was at that time quoted as a 
proof of insanity, and of incompetence in a man to 
manage his own afiairs.^ This, in short compass, is 
Herschel's view of the constitution of the sun. It is 
largely founded on the theory of his friend Wilson, 
the Professor of Astronomy in the University of 

^ Scots Magaasine, 1807, p. 329. 


Glasgow. So far as spots are concerned, it works out 
to an attractive and popular resemblance to truth. 
Suppose a disturbance — call it hurricane or tornado— 
to take place in the solar atmosphere. Everything is 
on a gigantic scale, mountains, winds, waves in this 
ocean of light A mighty updraft from below rolls 
back, for a longer or shorter time, the luminous solar 
clouda Into the vast pit thus laid open these clouds 
pour a flood of light on the body and cloudy atmo- 
sphere of the sun. The former looks black against the 
light, but reveals mountains upwards of three hundred 
miles in height; the latter, with its shelving sides, 
returns more of the light, and is less black ; while the 
shining matter, rolled back into waves of enormous 
length and height, is heaped up in fiery storms round 
the vast gulf. The dark body of the sun is called the 
macula, or spot ; the better lighted atmospheric shield, 
the penumbra ; and the heaped-up waves the facuLce, 
which give the sun's surface the roughness of aspect it 

This was all that Herschel saw or imagined. It was 
far within the truth for awe-inspiring beauty, and for 
the gigantic movements of these "luminous solar 
clouds." Had he seen the " blood-red streak " of the 
total eclipse of 1706, or the "corona" and "the ruddy 
clouds" of that of 1715, the science of astronomy 
would have been perhaps half a century in advance of 
the position he left it in at his death. He did not see 

^ Had Herschel known and reflected on the letter of Sir Isaac Newton 
printed in his Idfe, ii. 455, he would probably not have published this 
theory. "The whole body of the sun, therefore, must be red-hot" is 
Newton's conclusion. Even then it would look black against the sur- 
face luminous clouds. 


either blood-red streak or corona. There is no reason 
to believe that he even read of them. His pigmy moun- 
tains of three or four hundred miles were molehills to 
the vast tongues of red flame shot up from the burning 
ocean of the sun's surface to a height of 200,000 miles 
in a few minutes, rising from and falling back into that 
ocean's bosom in a couple of hours. Herschel would 
have revelled in these gigantic strides of living flame. 
He would have cast away his theory of solid body, 
atmosphere and luminous solar clouds. Probably he 
would have held fast to his comparison of the light- 
clouds to our northern lights, and to his idea that the 
comets help to maintain the light and heat of our sun. 
How his glory is kept up from age to age, from mil- 
lennium to millennium, we know as little as he did. 
Truly we are only at the beginning of our knowledge 
of this and other glorious stars; Herschel may have 
thought, and probably did think, that we were nearly 
at the end. 



The first of the heavenly bodies to which Herschel 
really turned his eyes with the longing of a traveller 
in an untrodden land of romance, appears to have been 
the planet Saturn. He was then forging the instru- 
ments which were destined to disclose the hidden 
things of creation, and to give an impulse to the study 
of them, that has gone on from wonder to wonder till 
the present day. He was keeping a journal, making 
entries of what he saw, and laying a foundation for 
future progress. But his method of writing was some- 
what peculiar. His papers were to a large extent 
copies of entries made in his journal, or the impressions 
he received at the moment while sun or star or planet 
was under his eye. There was thus room for mistakes, 
which it is not surprising that he fell into ; the wonder 
is that he fell into so few. Of mistakes resulting from 
this hasty method of working he was himself conscious; 
but it led to another inconvenience. He did not delay 
publishing his views till he was perfectly sure of their 
accuracy. The result was diffuseness of statement 
and unnecessary returning to the same subject. To 
give his views in the order of time would thus be 
wearisome and useless. We shall keep to the order of 
subjects, bringing them, as far as possible, to a focus. 



The planet Mercury did not receive much attention 
from Herschel; but, slight though his interest in it 
seems to have been, he could not make it a field of 
observation without shedding light on things then 
unknown, and afterwards forgotten. As a transit or 
passage of the planet over the sun's face was due at 
Windsor in the early morning of November 9, 1802, 
and Herschel's "apparatus^ for viewing the sun was 
then in the highest perfection," he was on the watch 
for what might happen. The weather proved as 
favourable as he could wish, and more than forty dark 
spots were counted on the sun's disc. A little black 
pea traversing the disc among dark spots of vastly 
greater size, it might have been feared, would be lost to 
view or only seen now and again. On the contrary, 
the black dot was easily seen during the four hours 
that remained of its passage across. As the sun rose 
higher, " the corrugations of the luminous solar surface 
up to the very edge of the planet " were visible with a 
10-feet reflector. "When the planet was sufficiently 
advanced towards the largest opening," or spot, " of the 
northern zone, he compared the intensity of the black- 
ness of the two objects; and found the disk of 
Mercury considerably darker, and of a more uniform 
black tint, than the area of the large opening." As 
it approached the edge of the sun, the whole of 
its disc was ''as sharply defined as possible; there 
was not the least appearance of any atmospheric 
ring, or different tinge of light, visible about the 
planet." As the black dot vanished on leaving the 
bright body of the sun, there was not the slightest 
distortion of the sun's limb or in its own figure. The 

^ The mirror of the reflector used on this occasion was made of glass. 


planet was snuffed out at once on leaving the sun's 
body. Things were somewhat diflFerent with the 
planet Venus. 

Venus had for many years been the object of close 
research by Schroeter, a most painstaking observer of 
Lilienthal, then a well-known observatory in the duchy 
of Bremen. Her appearance had also been carefully 
studied by Herschel for nearly twenty years. The 
former made out that he had measured on her surface 
lofty mountains six times higher than Chimborazo, or 
about twenty-three miles in height. The latter could 
see nothing of the kind, and poked some grave scientific 
fun at his friend, who complained, in a learned paper, 
that he could not "reconcile it to the friendly senti- 
ments which the author has always hitherto expressed 
towards me, and which I hold extremely precious ; 
though perhaps to others it may not have the same 
appearance." Boscovich's epigram on the planets had 
come true in the case of these astronomers — 

"'Twixt Mars and Venus as this globe was hurled, 
'Tis plain that love and war must rule the world." 

Schroeter attacks Herschel for misrepresenting, or, on 
insuflBicient grounds, rejecting his views. Herschel 
appears not to have retorted any more than he did 
when attacked elsewhere by others. It was wise; 
but he found that the Lady Venus may be as much 
a source of quarrel, when she walks in unsurpassed 
brightness among the stars, as when she awakens the 
feelings of mortal hearts on earth. 

As this was the only scientific quarrel in Herschel's 
life, it is worth while to show how small it was. Far 
dififerent were the quarrels which caused annoyance 


and grief to the friends of Newton, Hooke, Flamsteed, 
Leibnitz, Bernoulli, Laplace, and which render their 
lives sometimes most unpleasant reading. A quarrel 
for the maintenance of truth and right is a necessity 
of life in a world, where falsehood and wrong seem 
often to have the best of it ; but the meannesses and 
selfishness of scientific quarrels have little or nothing 
of this nobility about them. "The result of my 
observations would have been communicated long 
ago," Herschel wrote for the Royal Society, " if I had 
not still flattered myself with the hopes of some better 
success, concerning the diurnal motion of Venus; 
which, on acccount of the density of the atmosphere 
of this planet, has still eluded my constant attention 
as far as concerns its period and direction. Even at 
the present time I should hesitate to give the following 
extract from my journals, if it did not seem incumbent 
on me to examine by what accident I came to overlook 
mountains in this planet, which are said to be of such 
enormous height, as to exceed four, five, and even six 
times the perpendicular elevation of Cimbora5a, the 
highest of our mountains. The same paper which 
contains the lines I have quoted, gives us likewise 
many extraordinary accounts, equally wonderful : such 
as hints of the various and singular properties of the 
atmosphere of Saturn." Then he proceeds to speak of 
Schroeter's measures as " defective " ; the mirror of the 
7-f eet reflector used as " considerably tarnished " ; and 
the "calculations (as) so full of inaccuracies, that it would 
be necessary to go over them again." The Lilienthal 
observer did not like this plain speaking. 

To these somewhat sharp, but perhaps deserved 
criticisms, Schroeter replied in 1796. ^* Though it is a 


satisfaction to me that Dr. Herschel last year found 
my discovery of the morning and evening twilight of 
Venus's atmosphere to be confirmed, as I could not 
hope to have obtained such an important confirmation 
so early, considering the excellent telescopes required, 
and that a favourable opportunity for such observations 
occurs but seldom : yet the paper on the planet Venus, 
which this great observer has inserted in the PhiL 
Trans, for 1793, contains unreserved assertions, which 
may be easily injurious to the truth, for the very 
reason that they have truth for their object, and yet 
rest on no suflScient foundation." And Schroeter then 
endeavours to show that Herschel's paper contains 
misrepresentations or unsatisfactory proof of mistakes 
committed by him. 

It was a small quarrel at the worst, in which these 
two friends engaged, a very different quarrel from the 
disputes and angry encounters that disgraced Leibnitz, 
and Bernoulli, and Flamsteed, and did not leave 
Newton altogether unscathed. Schroeter had perhaps 
the best of it. His mountains, twenty or twenty-three 
miles high on the surface of Venus, may be a myth, 
but there is no doubt that his measure of the length of 
her day, 23^ 21™, is somewhat grudgingly accepted by 
Herschel, while his estimate of the size of Venus, as 
rather less than the earth, is preferred to HerscheFs, 
who believed he had proved Venus to be a little larger 
than the earth. At the same time it must be admitted 
that Herschel had sometimes cause to complain. 
Writing of one astronomer in 1799, he says, "the same 
author's account of my double stars is extremely 

As early as 1777, while toiling at the daily work of 


a musician in Bath, Herschel " found that the poles of 
Mars were distinguished with remarkable luminous 
spots." He believed that, by observing them carefully, 
he might secure a key to a knowledge of the planet, 
and its history, the length of its day, its atmosphere, 
its seasons. These observations were continued during 
six or seven years. Sometimes he saw a well-marked 
lucid spot on Mars : " it is its south pole, for it remains 
in the same place, while the dark equatorial spots 
perform their constant gyrations : it is nearly circular." 
It was not only circular; "it was very brilliant and 
white." At other times he saw also another "lucid 
spot" at the planet's north pole. Occasionally both 
spots were seen, but the one was " thicker," or " much 
thicker," than the other, while the thinner was, or 
seemed to be, longer. After six years of watching he 
writes, " The white polar spot increases in size ; it is 
very luminous." The conclusions he drew from these 
notes in his journal, and from his calculations to 
ascertain the seasons on Mars, must have been listened 
to by those iv^ho first heard them read as if they were 
a page or two from a romance by Fielding or Smollett. 
We give them in Herschel's own words. 

" The analogy between Mars and the earth is, perhaps, 
by far the greatest in the whole solar system. ... If 
then we find that the globe we inhabit has its polar 
regions frozen and covered with mountains of ice and 
snow, that only partly melt when alternately exposed 
to the sun, I may well be permitted to surmise that 
the same causes may probably have the same effect on 
the globe of Mars; that the bright polar spots are 
owing to the vivid reflection of light from frozen 
regions ; and that the reduction of those spots is to be 


ascribed to their being exposed to the sun. In the 
year 1781 the south polar spot was extremely large, 
which we might well expect, since that pole had but 
lately been involved in a whole twelvemonth's dark- 
ness and absence of the sun; but in 1783 I found it 
considerably smaller than before, and it decreased 
continually from the 20th of May till about the 
middle of September, when it seemed to be at a 
stand. During this last period the south pole had 
already been above eight months enjoying the benefit 
of summer, and still continued to receive the sunbeams ; 
though, towards the latter end, in such an oblique 
direction as to be but little benefited by them. On 
the other hand, in the year 1781, the north polar spot, 
which had then been its twelvemonth in the sunshine, 
and was but lately returning to darkness, appeared 
small, though undoubtedly increasing in size." The 
length of the year in Mars is nearly two of our years, 
and the distance from us varies from about 230 to 50 
millions of miles. 

Astronomers, previous to Herschers time, had found 
that Mars was surrounded by an atmosphere like the 
earth. One of them, Cassini, seems to have suspected 
the existence of an atmosphere of great density, and 
rising to a height of about 70,000 miles above the 
planet's surface.^ Herschel used the same means as 
Cassini to determine the height of the atmosphere of 
Mars by watching the fading or going out of starlight, 
when a star came up to its limb. At a distance of 
30,000 miles there was no indication of an atmosphere. 
" It appears, however, that the planet is not without a 

^ Thirty-six semi-diameters of the planet. The atmosphere of the 
earth is now supposed to be about 500 miles in height. 


considerable atmosphere. For besides the permanent 
spots on its surface, I have often noticed," he says, 
"occasional changes of partial bright belts and also 
once a darkish one in a pretty high latitude. And 
these alterations we can hardly ascribe to any other 
cause than the variable disposition of clouds and 
vapours floating in the atmosphere of that planet." 
From the fact that the dark belts or spots and the 
red colour of Mars manifestly belong to the surface of 
the planet, we may accept Herschel's idea "that its 
inhabitants probably enjoy a situation in many respects 
similar to ours." It has been shown in our own day 
that the vapour of water, and with that we may 
associate clouds, is present in the atmosphere of Mars. 
But there is reason to believe that the atmosphere of 
Mars is comparatively rare. 

Jupiter was not one of the planets from which 
Herschel reaped an ungathered harvest. The field 
had been so thoroughly worked by others in searching 
for a method of easily discovering the longitude at 
sea, that it does not seem to have presented the same 
attractions to him as other planets did. A paper 
which he wrote on Jupiter in 1797 — and he wrote no 
other — gives many curious quotations from his journal 
regarding the planet and its satellites. So minute are 
the discoveries made of change of colour and apparent 
size of the satellites that if the Red spot, detected on 
the planet in 1878, had been visible in his day, he 
could scarcely have failed to see it. The bands or 
belts on the body of the planet, the white and dark 
spots they showed, the length of day they indicated, 
and the rotation of the four satellites round their 
primary were the principal points attended to by 


him. The results he arrived at were very near the 

Time of rotation of Jupiter on his axis ^ — 


Time of revolution in its orbit of — 

H. M. S. 

9 55 49 

D. H. M. D. H. M. S. 

First satellite . . . 1 18 26*6 1 18 27 34 

Second satellite . . . 3 18 17-9 3 13 13 42 

Third satellite . ..73 59*6 7 3 42 33 

Fourth satellite . . . 16 18 5-1 16 16 32 11 

If the white spots on the belts were connected with 
drifting masses in Jupiter's atmosphere, they would 
drift as well as rotate. Herschel was aware of this, 
and, since his day, the amount of drift has been 
estimated at 270 miles an hour in the same direction 
as the rotation. In other words, they would take 
42 days to go round the planet from this cause 
alone. Herschel was also persuaded that the four 
satellites revolve on their axes in the same period as 
they revolve round Jupiter, resembling in this respect 
our moon. Laplace was disposed to accept this 

For more than a century and a half the planet 
Saturn had been the object and, it may be said, the 
despair of every astronomer's curiosity, mainly in 
consequence of the ring which the telescope had 
shown it to possess, and the singular shapes the 
ring was found to assume. Five moons were also 
discovered to be circling round the planet, and 

^ The great red spot gives 9 h. 65 m. 34 s. 
* System of the Worlds Bk. I. chs. viii. vii. 


Messier, viewing the planet in 1766 with what he calls 
"an achromatic reflector of 10 feet 7 inches focus," 
" perceived on his globe two darkish belts, extremely 
faint and difficult to be discerned, directed, however, 
in a right line parallel to the longest diameter of the 
ring."^ However, till Herschel applied his 40 -feet 
reflector to its system, discovery may be said to have 
reached its limits. To " the liberal support, whereby 
our most benevolent King has enabled his humble 
astronomer to complete the arduous undertaking of 
constructing this instrument," Herschel writes, was 
due the discovery of other two moons or satellites, a 
fuller knowledge of the nature of the ring, and, in 
short, a new era in our knowledge of that wonderful 
system. An object so engaging drew Herschel's 
attention as early as the spring of 1774, long before 
he was known to fame. On the I7th of March that 
year, with a 5 J-feet reflector, he saw the ring " reduced 
to a very minute line," and the planet looking like a 
ball with a knitting-needle projecting through it on 
both sides. About a fortnight after, the ends of this 
axis had vanished, and a dark band or shadow crossed 
the planet's equator from side to side. In the follow- 
ing year he saw the ring gradually open out, with a 
" dark zone contained between two concentric circles," 
as if there were two rings with an open space between 
them. For ten years he continued watching the planet 
with telescopes of various powers, suspicious that it 
had not told astronomers all the story of its ring and 
satellitea The ten years' watch lengthened out to 
twenty, and the twenty to thirty or more, but this 
eager watcher still kept guard, ready to take advan- 

1 PUL Trans., 1769., vol. lix. p. 459. 


tage of the slightest lifting of the curtain which con- 
cealed a world of wonders from view. 

As soon as his great mirror was finished, he turned 
it on Saturn, and " the very first moment he saw the 
planet, on August 28, 1789," he was presented with a 
view of six of its satellites, " in such a situation and so 
bright as rendered it impossible to mistake them or 
not to see them." Five of these satellites had been 
known for more than a century: a sixth was thus 
added. Constantly continuing his watch on the planet, 
he was rewarded, three weeks after, with discovering 
a seventh so close to the planet that the telescopes, 
previously in use, had failed to find it.^ Even in his 
great mirror " it appeared no bigger than a very small 
lucid point," and it lies so near the planet and its ring 
that " except in very fine weather, it cannot easily be 
seen well enough to take its place with accuracy." 
But he learned from experience, and taught others the 
lesson, that it is easier to find a small body which has 
been once seen, and whose place has been marked, 
than to detect it for the first time amid a crowd of 
other heavenly bodies.^ The heavens teach wisdom 
even in the littlest things, but the lessons they teach 
are sometimes forgotten as soon as learned. He found 
also that the time of a sidereal revolution round the 
planet is 22 hours, 37 minutes, 22 seconds. Both it 
and the other moon he discovered revolve so near and 
so parallel to the ring, that he had " repeatedly seen 

1 One discovered by Huyghens in 1655, and four by Cassini in 1671 
and onwards. 

^ Compare the ease with which observers detected the smaU companion 
of Sirios, and the ** crape " ring of Saturn after they were once detected 
(Ball, Story of the Hecmns, p. 887). 


them run along its very minute arms " at the rate of 
9 or 10 miles a second! He was looking from 
Windsor across a gulf in space about nine hundred 
millions of miles in width. It was a romance of the 
heavens — one of many. 

On ascertaining that his great telescope was not 
required for these observations on the ring and moons 
of Saturn, he "made ten new object specula and 
fourteen small plain ones for his 7 -feet reflector, 
having already found that the maximum of distinct- 
ness might be much easier obtained than where large 
apertures are concerned." During his long-continued 
watch of Saturn he saw sometimes a northern belt on 
the body of the planet, sometimes two belts at the 
equator. In a couple of days the entry in his journal 
became " a bright belt over a dark one " ; and, nine 
days later, " one dark and one very faint white belt." 
The last entry he quotes in 1790 is, "The bright belt 
close to the ring and two dark equatorial belts." 
These belts would be about one hundred thousand 
miles in length: what were they? Similar belts or 
bands had long been seen and studied on the planet 
Jupiter. It was agreed among observers that they 
were probably due to cloudy masses floating in 
Jupiter's atmosphere. If the same explanation hold 
for the belts of Saturn, the changes, seen on them 
by Herschel, would be explained by "a very con- 
siderable atmosphere," in which they take place. He 
not only adopted this conclusion, but confirmed it by 
another observation. When the two nearest of the 
moons — the two he discovered in 1789 — came, in their 
progress round the planet, to the edge of the disc, 
they did not disappear at once, but continued "to 


hang to the disk a long while before they would 
vanisL" The seventh or innermost (Mimas) thus 
hung on the disc for twenty minutes, and the sixth 
for fourteen or fifteen. Had there been no atmosphere, 
both of the moons would have been at once hid behind 
the planet. This takes place when a star comes up to 
our moon, and vanishes behind it. The star is seen to 
go out at once ; and the conclusion drawn is that this 
could not happen unless there were no atmosphere or 
very little of it in the moon to keep the star in sight 
for us after it had really vanished. Our atmosphere 
gives us twilight, morning and evenmg, and enables 
us to see the sun some minutes before he rises, and 
for as long after he has set. Ultimately Herschel 
perceived a quintuple belt, two dark and three bright, 
on Saturn. Sometimes also he noticed a whitish light 
at the poles similar to the polar spots on Mars, and 
due, he believed, to the same cause. But what these 
belts really are is a problem still unsolved. The vast 
body of Saturn is lighter than the same volume of 
water, and would float in it like cork. Our earth is 
about five times heavier than a globe of water of the 
same size, and would sink in water like lead. Whether 
Saturn is still a heated mass, slowly cooling down, and 
these clouds arise from streams of gas given ofi*, remain 
problems for the future to solve. 

With improved mirrors and a less powerful tele- 
scope, he watched the movements and changes of the 
ring. Between 1790 and 1806 he wrote seven papers 
for the Royal Society on Saturn and his system. 
Slowly he came to the conclusion, which he dismissed 
at first as improbable, that the ring was not single, but 
double, with a gulf twenty-five hundred miles [1680] in 


width between the two parts.^ The black disc or belt was 
not in the middle of the ring's breadth. " It is a zone 
of considerable breadth," which was always seen per- 
manently in the same place. As it was not, what some 
seem to have supposed, the shadow of a vast range of 
mountains on the ring's surface, he resolved to wait 
till the planet came into a position which would enable 
him to see the stars through the black belt, if it really 
were a division in the ring, a window, as it were, 
through which he could look out into space beyond. 
He does not appear to have been successful in this 
quest, and it has not been done by others. That there 
were two unequal rings,^ separated by this black line, 
he was satisfied. They were bright rings, but the 
inner was the brighter of the two. Near the outer 
edge of the outer ring, he observed and figured "a 
black list," fainter than the dividing gulf. He did not 
consider it a division in the outer ring, but it is now 
a recognised feature, traceable all round. Herschel also 

^ The dimensions of Saturn and his rings are, according to Proctor 
(Sncyc. Brit,y "Astronomy," p. 783)— 

Diameter of the planet . . . 70,136 miles. 

Between planet and " crape " ring . 9,760 

Breadth of " crape " ring . . 8,660 

,, of inner bright ring . . 17,605 ,, 

„ of division between bright rings 1,680 ,, 

„ of outer bright ring . . 9,625 ,, 

The diameter of the ring system is thus about 165,000 miles. Herschel 
made it about (204,883) 205,000 miles in diameter. He believed that 
the breadth of the ring is to the space between the ring and the planet 
as 5 to 4 {PhU, Trcms,, 1806, p. 463). If the "crape" be left out of 
account in measuring the ring, the proportion is about 5 to 3*2 {Phil. 
Trcms, for 1792). He estimates the vacant space between the outer 
and inner rings at nearly 2513 miles. 

" In the proportion of 805 to 280, while the space between was 
reckoned 115. 


saw the edge of the ring as a thin rim of light, and, from 
some spots seen on it, inferred that it rotated round the 
planet in 10 hours, 32 minutes, 15 seconds. The planet 
itself revolves in 10 hours, 14 minutes, 23 seconds. 

Highly interesting was the story thus told by the 
planet ; but Herschel wrung from it other details. 
He suspected that an eighth satellite existed, but it 
was reserved for others to discover an eighth, and, it is 
now said, a ninth, at great distances from the planet. 
But the rings continued to be a puzzle, which baffled 
solution. He observed lucid points, different from the 
satellites, coming between the ring and his eye, and 
moving along it in their orbits. If they were not 
satellites, what were they ? He was not mistaken in 
"the frequent appearance of protuberant and lucid 
points on the arms of the ring of Saturn." They were 
realities, not illusions, not an enchantment lent by the 
vast distance at which he saw them. " Many of these 
bright points," he writes, " were completely accounted 
for by the calculated places of the satellites " ; but 
there were many more which remained inexplicable. 
He could not entertain the idea that these points 
" would denote immense mountains of elevated sur- 
face." He rather inclined to the belief that the ring 
was in a state of rotation roimd the planet, and that 
one at least of the shining spots might be a moon 
bedded in or somehow connected with the ring, float- 
ing, it might be, in a fluid like water, or running in 
" a notch, groove or division of the ring to suffer the 
satellite to pass along." He was perhaps not far from 
the truth in these romantic imaginings. But the light 
of the ring is generally brighter than that of the 
planet, and he even imagined that the shining spots 


may owe " their existence to inherent fires acting with 
great violence." " Nay, we have pretty good reason to 
believe," he said, " that probably all the planets emit 
light in some degree ; for the illumination which re- 
mains on the moon in a total eclipse cannot be entirely 
ascribed to the light which may reach it by the refrac- 
tion of the earth's atmosphere." This idea is not 
borne out by recent observations. 

The first two papers Herschel wrote on Saturn, con- 
taining the record of more than fourteen years' work, 
cover nearly ninety pages quarto. Fifty of these pages 
are merely extracts from his journal, showing the 
nightly work in which he was engaged, jottings, it 
may be, all of which required from him time and care, 
before they could be put down on paper. Here is a 
specimen of two nights' work, done shortly before 
midnight :— 

" Nov. 7 : 22, 9. At the end of the p. arm is a place 
that is brighter than nearer to the body. 

" 23, 12. The preceding arm has still the appearance 
of a small protuberant point towards the south, near 
the end of the arm. 

" Nov. 8 : 23; 40. There is a protuberant point on the 
preceding arm besides the 7th sat. ; so that at present 
I cannot tell whether the satellite be the nearest or 
farthest of them." ^ 

By patient, long-continued labour, carried on at all 
hours of the day and night, is a way prepared for 
advancing the boundaries of human knowledge, though 
few are capable of estimating, far less of bearing, the 

1 Phil Trams,, 1790, p. 485 (voL Ixxx.). The seventh and sixth, 
though last discovered, are nearest to the planet. The longer-known 
five used to be named in the order of their distance from it. 


cost in time and comfort, by the sacrifice of which it is 
purchased for mankind. 

That Herschel was surprised by the brightness of 
the rings, the greater brightness of the shining points 
he saw on them, and the yellowish light of the planet, 
is quite clear. Whether he ever suspected a light or 
phosphorescence of its own in the system of Saturn, as 
some observers have now come to think exists, is 
another matter. But he was on the threshold of that 
discovery, if discovery it be. He entertained no such 
idea in 1789 when he classed all the planets " under 
one general definition, of bodies not luminous in them- 
selves," though two years of farther reflection and 
observation may have wrought a change in a man of 
his clear perception and quickness. On another view 
developed since his day he almost anticipated recent 
research. He denied that the ring was subdivided by 
many dark lines into a series of concentric rings, " as 
has been represented in divers treatises of astronomy." 
He firmly held to only one division ; but he was not 
far from the modem view, which represents the ring 
as a mighty mass of revolving satellites, kept in posi- 
tion by the gravity of the planet and the velocity of 
their rotation round him. 

Herschel's memoirs on Saturn cover about one 
hundred and seventy pages quarto, and the plates that 
accompany them give a distinct idea of what he saw. 
By comparing letterpress and plate we may better 
understand the relation in which he stood to his fol- 
lowers in this field of research and discovery. With 
one of the new specula, which he ground apparently for 
the purpose of observing the ring of Saturn more care- 
fully, he got views that he speaks of as " uncommonly 


distinct." Of these views he writes : " The outer ring 
is less bright than the inner ring. The inner ring is 
very bright close to the dividing space, and at about 
half its breadth it begins to change colour, gradually 
growing fainter, and just upon the inner edge it is 
almost of the colour of the dark part of the quintuple 
belt." ^ A little after he adds : " The shadow of the 
ring upon Saturn, on each side, is bent a little south- 
wards, so that the apparent curve it makes departs a 
little from the ring." Looking at these singular com- 
panions of the planet across a gulf eight or nine 
hundred millions of miles wide, it is not surprising 
that an astronomer prays for "light, more light," to 
resolve this puzzle of the bright and the dark. It is 
only an outline of the ring, at the best, that we can 
expect to obtain from the most careful drawings. But 
what Herschel did not suspect or imagine about the 
ring, it would be natural for him to confound with, 
other features that took a greater hold of his fancy. 
Of the inner ring he says : " At about half its breadth 
it begins to change colour," that is, it passes from 
" very bright " to the darkness of the quintuple belt. 
Now this was said of the ring as seen and figured in 
1794. Compare it with the three rings in the three 
figures shown in 1792. They are unlike that of 1794. 
Either the ring had changed, or Herschel was in 1794 
looking on two inner rings, a bright or very bright 
ring, and a dark. This was Professor Bond's discovery 
in 1850, " a crape ring " half the breadth of the very 
bright inner ring, between it and the body of the 
planet. There are thus three well-marked rings in 
the system of Saturn, a somewhat dark outer, a very 

1 Phil Trans., 1794, pp. 54, 67. 


bright inner, and a "crape" or slate - coloured ring 
nearer still to the planet. Did Herschel not see and 
figure all three, only failing to observe the interval 
between the very bright and the " crape " ring ? We 
can only express our surprise if one so quick of eye, 
and so careful to observe, ascribed to the bright ring 
in 1794, what he did not see or delineate on it in 1792, 
if the " crape " existed then as it exists now. 

Fifty years after. Sir John Herschel, when at the 
Cape of Good Hope, made a careful search for the two 
moons discovered by his illustrious father. He had 
all but given it up in despair when, looking for the 
other five " with the 20-f eet reflector," which he took 
with him to South Africa, " and a polished new mirror, 
there stood Mr. Sixth ! . . . Next night it was kept in 
view long enough for Saturn to have left it behind by 
its own motion, had it been a star. ... So this is 
at last a thing made out," he writes. "As for No. 
Seven, I have no hope of ever seeing it." 

Since HerscheFs time the minds of men have become 
familiar with strings of meteorites, millions of miles in 
length, through which our earth plunges in its yearly 
journey round the sun. If they form, or come in time 
to form, a continuous ring about the sun, one hundred 
thousand miles in breadth, we may have on a vastly 
larger scale a parallel to the rings of Saturn. The 
breadth of the latter is only about one-third of the 
breadth of one well-known stream of meteors, and 
their length is not a quarter of a million of miles. If 
then these rings of the planet are similarly composed 
of separate masses, great and small, and are not con- 
tinuous rings, perhaps 250 miles in thickness, a satellite 
" floating in a fluid like water, or running in a notch, 


groove or division of the ring," while it ceases to be a 
fanciful, becomes also an unnecessary conception. 

Such are the main features of the romance of Saturn 
since Herschel began his study of it one hundred and 
twenty-five years ago. In the hundred and twenty- 
five years that preceded, there had also been mystery 
and romance about the planet and his ring. All the 
riddles presented by this system have not been yet 
read, and it is likely that, when improvements in tele- 
scopes or observation enable man to read the riddles 
that face him to-day, they will raise new riddles and 
give birth to other romances for the amazement or 
delight of future ages. On one point science is still in 
doubt. Does the fifth satellite of Saturn, like our 
moon, always show the same face to the planet, or, in 
other words, turn on its axis in the same time that it 
takes to revolve round him ? Herschel believed he 
had proved, or almost proved, that it " turns once on 
its axis, exactly in the time it performs one revolution 
round its primary planet." 

It was only fitting that the discoverer of Uranus 
should pay special attention to that planet : but five or 
six years elapsed before his patient watchfulness was 
crowned with any success. Unlike Jupiter and Saturn, 
the light of Uranus is very faint. He does not invite 
pursuit ; he flies from it into darkness : and the light 
of his moons is fainter still. Herschel suspected, per- 
haps hoped, that if he searched for satellites he would 
find them. And so he did. On January 11, 1787, he 
saw " some very faint stars " near the planet, " whose 
places he noted down with great care." Next evening 
two of them were missing. As the haziness, that was 
about, might have caused their disappearance, he noted 


"all the small stars near the planet the 14th, 17th, 
18th, 24th of January, and the 4th and 5th of 
February." On the 7th of February he kept one 
star in view for nine hours, from six in the evening 
till three next morning. His journal records that he 
saw it " faithfully attend its primary planet." On the 
second night after, he was so satisfied of having caught 
sight of a second moon, that he delineated on paper 
what he expected to see the following evening. And 
he saw in the clear heavens what he sketched sixteen 
or seventeen hundred million of miles away, " The 
Georgian Planet, attended by two satellites." Oberon 
and Titania are the fairy names by which they are 
now known. "I confess," he adds, "that this scene 
appeared to me with additional beauty, as the little 
secondary planets seemed to give a dignity to the 
primary one, which raises it into a more conspicuous 
situation among the great bodies of our system. For 
upwards of five hours I saw them go on together, 
each pursuing its own track." It was the heroic age 
of astronomical research. A hero there and a hero 
here were wrestling with difficulties and winning 
triumphs in the world of stars. They were men of 
extraordinary skill and unwearied endurance. It was 
nearly fifty years after their discovery before the fairies, 
Oberon and Titania, again condescended to show them- 
selves to a mortal, the son of their discoverer.^ And 
it enabled his aunt, then ninety years of age, to write : 
" These folks would not have called the Herschelian 
construction useless, if they had seen the struggle, 
during the years from 1781 to '86, to get a sight of 

^ Holden, Life wnd Works of W, H., p. 143. But see Caroline's 
MemoirSf pp. 261, 305. 


the satellites of the Georgium Sidus, when, after 
throwing aside the speculum, they stood broad before 

From observations continued on Uranus for fifteen 
years, Herschel first suspected, and then became con- 
vinced that other satellites besides the two, which he 
discovered in 1787, attend the planet on its journey 
round the sun. It was labour of love not lost, or 
grudgingly given, but the fruits it yielded were Dead 
Sea apples with a fair outside and rottenness within. 
He believed he saw other four moons circling round 
Uranus apparently in an opposite direction to other 
planets, that is, from east to west, not from west to 
east. He also suspected that it had a ring round it, 
or two rings; then he gave up the idea; then he 
entered in his journal, " When the satellites are best in 
focus, the suspicion of a ring is the strongest"; and 
nine months after he adds, " The planet is not round, 
and I have not much doubt but that it has a ring." 
He used " successively powers rising from 240 to 2400," 
more than two years after, " without any suspicion of 
a ring." A fortnight later he tried magnifying powers 
of 2400 and 4800. In conclusion he believed in the 
four new satellites, but gave the ring up. A traveller 
in unexplored regions of the heavens may thus be as 
much the victim of a mirage as a wanderer in the 
thirsty deserts of earth. But a singular thing was 
observed: these moons of Uranus became invisible 
when they approached the planet, which those of 
Jupiter and Saturn never did till the planet got be- 
tween them and us. What was the reason ? 

The cause is in the eye of the observer himself. It 
requires to adapt itself to the light which falls on the 


retina. Now "the planet is very faint; and the in- 
fluence of its feeble light cannot extend far with any 
degree of equality. This enables us to see the faintest 
objects, even when they are only a minute or two 
removed from it. The satellites are very nearly the 
dimmest objects that can be seen in the heavens; so 
that they cannot bear any considerable diminution of 
their light, by a contrast with a more luminous object, 
without becoming invisible. If then the sphere of 
illumination of our new planet be limited to 18" or 
20", we may fully account for the loss of the satellites 
when they come within its reach ; for they have very 
little light to lose, and lose it pretty suddenly." This 
view of a weak light extinguishing a weaker, though 
a commonplace now, received a very poetical inter- 
pretation in a paper written by Herschel three years 
after. " This increased sensibility," he says, " was such, 
that if a star of the 3rd magnitude came towards the 
field of view, I found it necessary to withdraw the eye 
before its entrance, in order not to injure the delicacjf' 
of vision acquired by long continuance in the dark. 
The transit of large stars, unless where none of the 
6th or 7th magnitude could be had, has generally 
been declined in my sweeps, even with the 20-feet 
telescope. And I remember, that after a considerable 
sweep with the 40-f eet instrument, the appearance of 
Sinus announced itself, at a great distance, like the 
dawn of the morning, and came on by degrees, in- 
creasing in brightness, till this brilliant star at last 
entered the field of view of the telescope, with all the 
splendour of the rising sun, and forced me to take the 
eye from that beautiful sight." To increase this sen- 
sibility of the eye he was on these occasions in the 


habit of excluding light from surrounding objects by 
wearing a black hood. 

Herschel was not content with wresting from Uranus 
this novel part of his story. He continued to watch 
the planet. Unfortunately, the same success did not 
crown his efforts to read its history. A great number 
of observations on imaginary rings and supposed 
moons, that were found to be stars, or not moons but 
probably moving, planetary bodies of the asteroid 
nature, demanded his attention, and deceived his 
hopes. It was such a tantalising pursuit, that even 
"the direction of a current of air alone may affect 
vision." At last he came to the conclusion that no 
ring, similar to Saturn's, girdles Uranus; but that, 
certainly, four additional satellites accompany him on 
his long journey of eighty-four years round the sun. 
Astronomers who came after his time failed to find 
these four moons, but, later still, two satellites have 
been added to the original two discovered by Herschel. 
One of the additions is suspected to belong to the four 
he believed he had seen circling round the planet. Of 
the four recognised satellites the most distant, Oberon, 
performs its round in 13*46 days, or, as Herschel 
found, 13 days, 11 hours, 5 minutes, 1 J seconds. Other 
information, which by careful watching he wrung 
from Uranus, has been verified or corrected by those 
who came after him ; but to this unwearied observer 
belongs the credit of showing that the two satellites 
he discovered, unlike other members of the solar 
system, revolve in orbits nearly at right angles to 
the ecliptic, and that their course is retrograde, or 
from east to west, not direct, that is, from west 
to east. These were two singular and outstanding 


discoveries made by Herschel in the system of 

The two small planets, Ceres and Pallas, discovered 
in 1801 and 1807, have strangely given the tooth of 
envy an opportunity of wounding the good name of 
Herschel. As he found their discs like those of fixed 
stars, spurious and not measurable; as they "re- 
sembled small stars so much as hardly to be distin- 
guished from them even by very good telescopes," as 
he imagined them from the haziness he saw around 
them to be " comets in disguise," he considered planet 
a misnomer as applied to them, and proposed to call 
them asteroids. Strange to say, the friend of Piazzi 
and Olbers, who discovered these small bodies, was 
charged with intending, by the suggestion of this 
diminutive, to cast a slight on the achievement of his 
friends, in comparison with his own glory as the dis- 
coverer of the great planet, Uranus. A more stupid 
slander of a most generous heart could scarcely be 
imagined. He predicted that the association of astro- 
nomers which had been formed on the Continent to 
hunt for more of them would be successful: "Many 
may soon be discovered," he informed the Royal Society. 
Two were caught within the next five years, Juno and 
Vesta, but the " many " foretold by Herschel in 1802 
remained an unfulfilled prediction for more than forty 
years. He himself joined in the hunt, and failed : " I 
have already made five reviews of the Zodiac without 
detecting any of these concealed objects." Yet he was 
slandered as envious of the fame of others who had 
done what he confessed he had failed in doing,^ although 
in 1813 he told Thomas Campbell, the poet, that " there 

^ Phil. Traihs. for 1802, pp. 228-30. 


will be thousands — perhaps thirty thousand more — yet 
discovered." The discovery of the fourth, called Vesta, 
he pronounced " an event of such consequence " as to 
" engage his immediate attention." He called it " a valu- 
able addition to our increasing catalogue of asteroids " ; 
and he spoke of the " celebrated discoverers " as in- 
ducing " us to hope that some farther light may soon 
be thrown upon this new and most interesting branch 
of astronomy." ^ Dr. Olbers himself wrote to Herschel 
that Vesta " was not to be distinguished from a fixed 
star " ; ^ while Schroeter, the countryman and neighbour 
of Olbers, had already communicated a paper to the 
Royal Society in which he said : ^ " Its image was, with- 
out the least difference, that of a fixed star of the 6th 
magnitude with an intense radiating light; so that 
this new planet may with the greatest propriety be 
called an asteroid" That one scientific man should 
attack, or rather slander, another for giving to these 
small bodies a scientifically appropriate name, on the 
ground that he thereby intended to derogate from the 
credit of his own friends, whom he publicly extolled as 
" celebrated discoverers," seems incredible. Yet it was 

By a most ingenious contrivance he managed to 
obtain approximate values for the diameters of Ceres 
and Pallas. The former he found to be 161*6 miles ; 
the latter smaller, 147 or 110 J miles. So small is 
Pallas that it would require many thousands equally 
small to make up a planet no larger than Mercury. 
The colour of Ceres he found to be " ruddy, but not 
very deep " ; that of Pallas, " milky whitish." 

1 Letter from Dr. Olbers, April 20, 1807. 

a Phil. Trans., 1807, p. 260. » Phil. Trans., May 28, 1807, p. 246. 


In 1807 Herschel concluded one of his papers in 
these words: "I find that out of the sixteen comets 
which I have examined, fourteen have been without 
any visible solid body in their centre, and that the 
other two had a very ill-defined small central light, 
which might perhaps be called a nucleus, but did not 
deserve the name of a disk." In the end of September 
that year a comet was discovered by Mr. Pigott, to 
which Herschel at once turned his attention in the 
hope of wresting from it information regarding its 
nature. By careful observations, continued over five 
months, he felt himself warranted in claiming for it 
" a visible, round and well-defined disk," 538 miles in 
diameter, and " shining in every part of it with equal 
brightness." He came also to the conclusion "that 
the body of the comet on its surface is self-luminous, 
from whatever cause this quality may be derived." 
He inferred besides that " the changes in the brightness 
of the small stars, when they are successively immerged 
in the tail or coma of the comet, or cleared from them, 
prove evidently, that they are suflSciently dense to 
obstruct the free passage of star-light." The tail of 
this comet, three weeks after its discovery, was more 
than nine millions of miles in length, and Herschel 
was inclined to think that it "consisted of radiant 
matter, such as, for instance, the aurora borealis." It 
was not bifid or split in two, as that of the comet of 1769 
had been, but it presented a peculiarity seen also in others 
of these bodies : " The south-preceding side, in all its 
length, except towards the end, is very well defined : 
but thenorth-f oUowing side is everywhere hazy and irre- 
gular, especially towards the end; it is also shorter than 
the south-preceding one, . . . even to the naked eye," 



If Herschel had not known this body to be a comet, 
he would have described its head, as "a very large, 
brilliant, round nebula, suddenly much brighter in the 
middle." He says that he would have added, "The 
centre of it might consist of very small stars." So 
struck was he with this singular idea that he directed 
a telescope "with a high power to the comet." He 
then saw "several small stars shining through the 
nebulosity of the coma." The terror which once sur- 
rounded the appearance of these bodies in the heavens 
is gone ; the awe remains, and, as knowledge increases, 
the mysteries that attend their birth, their growth, 
their flight through space, have become greater and 
more wonderful problems awaiting solution. 



So long as Herschers house was conducted by his 
sister Caroline, it could scarcely be called an English 
home. To all intents and purposes it was a German 
household, ruled by a German mistress, and conducted 
according to German ways. When he married the 
widow of a London merchant, Mrs. Pitt, his sister, who 
had been for some time kept unusually busy with 
papers and calculations, wrote, as she was withdrawing 
from this household management, "It may easily be 
supposed that I must have been fully employed (be- 
sides minding the heavens) to prepare everything as 
well as I could against the time I was to give up the 
place of a housekeeper, which was the eighth of May, 
1788." She continued to mind the heavens; but she 
had a good deal also to do with the earth. 

Of the lady to whom Herschel was married, of him- 
self, and of his sister we have excellent word-pictures, 
drawn by Miss Bumey and her father. Caroline, who 
for fourteen years had devoted her life to her brother's 
studies, and who continued to show the same devotion 
for sixty more, though resigning the post of house- 
keeper, remained to help him in his pursuits and to 
watch over his health. Reading the brief entries in 
her diary, we cannot help concluding that in many 


respects she was the real, but not the nominal head of 
that centre of activity and discovery. When Dr. 
Bumey called on Herschel in 1798, ten years after 
his marriage with Mrs. Pitt, to consult him about his 
great poem on astronomy and astronomers, he was 
surprised to find Mrs. Herschel, and not her sister-in- 
law Caroline, at the head of the table, while a merry 
little son of six, afterwards Sir John Herschel, amused 
him and the rest of the company. Dr. Bumey did not 
know that his friend William Herschel was married. 
Even in 1817, another visitor. Dr. Niemeyer, was 
equally ignorant. These are proofs of the gentle, re- 
tiring nature of the wife, to which Herschel's friends 
bear witness, and of the overshadowing celebrity to 
which his sister had attained. From all quarters we 
learn that it was as pleasant a home as it was a famous 

Miss Bumey, the famous authoress of JSvdina, who 
accepted the post of assistant wardrobe keeper to the 
Queen in Windsor Castle at £200 a year, when she 
might have earned ten times that amount by her pen, 
and retained her independence besides, may possibly 
have had a fellow-feeling with Herschel, who was 
condemned, as she was, to bear heavy burdens from 
the etiquette of a court. Her picture of him is every 
way delightful ; his wife comes in for a briefer notice 
and for less praise. At a tea-party and concert in 
Windsor she met them both, five months after their 
marriage. " Two young ladies were to perform," she 
says, " in a little concert. Dr. Herschel was there, and 
accompanied them very sweetly on the violin; his 
new-married wife was with him, and his sister. His 
wife seems good-natured ; she was rich, too ! and astro- 


nomers are as able as other men to discern that gold 
can glitter as well as stars." ^ There is a falling-off 
here from the enthusiasm of former days: a great 

Two years previous Miss Bumey described Herschel, 
or her first impressions of him, in much more glowing 
terms. " In the evening Mr. Herschel came to tea. I 
had once seen that very extraordinary man at Mrs. 
De Luc's, but was happy to see him again, for he has 
not more fame to awaken curiosity than sense and 
modesty to gratify it. He is perfectly unassuming, 
yet openly happy, and happy in the success of those 
studies which would render a mind less excellently 
formed presumptuous and arrogant. 

" The King has not a happier subject than this man, 
who owes it wholly to His Majesty that he is not 
wretched ; for such was his eagerness to quit all other 
pursuits to follow astronomy solely, that he was in 
danger of ruin, when his talents and great and un- 
common genius attracted the King's patronage. He 
has now not only his pension, which gives him the 
felicity of devoting all his time to his darling study, 
but he is indulged in license from the King to make a 
telescope according to his new ideas and discoveries, 
that is, to have no cost spared in its construction, and 
is wholly to be paid for by His Majesty. 

" This seems to have made him happier even than 
the pension, as it enables him to put in execution all 
his wonderful projects, from which his expectations of 
future discoveries are so sanguine as to make his 
present existence a state of almost perfect enjoyment. 

" He seems a man without a wish that has its object 

1 October 3, 1788. 


in the terrestrial globe. At night Mr. Herschel, by the 
King's command, came to exhibit to His Majesty and 
the Royal Family the new comet lately discovered by 
his sister, Miss Hersijhel ; and while I was playing at 
piquet with Mrs. Schwellenberg, the Princess Augusta 
came into the room, and asked her if she chose to go 
into the garden and look at it. She declined the oflFer, 
••and the Princess then made it to me. I was glad to 
accept it for all sorts of reasons. We found him at 
his telescope. The comet was very small, and had 
nothing grand or striking in its appearance ; but it is 
the first lady's comet, and I was very desirous to see 
it. Mr. Herschel then shewed me some of his new 
discovered universes, with all the good humour with 
which he would have taken the same trouble for a 
brother or a sister astronomer ; there is no possibility 
of admiring his genius more than his gentleness." 

Of these four paragraphs the first and the last show 
undisguised, genuine admiration of this hero of the 
stars by a heroine of the pen, "for all sorts of reasons."^ 
It was the queen of literature crowning the king and 
high priest of the stars with the laurel wreath of 
a world's homage. Perhaps it was more than this, 
different though the ages of the king and queen were. 
But the second of the four paragraphs is of a different 
nature. It hints at dangers and difficulties, which do 
not square with Caroline Herschel's Memoirs. They 
may be explained by Miss Burney's knowledge of the 

* Miss Burney tells the story of love's progress in her novel of Evelina, 
written some time before : '* How rapid was then my Evelina's progress 
through those regions of fancy and passion, whither her new guide 
conducted her ! She saw Lord Orville at a ball — and he was t?ie most 
ammbl of men! She met him again at another — and he had every 
virtue vmder Jiewoen ! " {Evelina, ii. 149). 


talk and whispers among the King's equerries at 
Windsor Castle. That a man should be "wretched" 
and " in danger of ruin," who had established himself 
at Bath and was making a large income there/ points 
to something more serious than she could realise or 
wished to repeat. Probably the equerries knew about 
it, and, without revealing secrets, gave her an indis- 
tinct idea that something was or had been seriously 

At the very end of 1786, Miss Bumey is still in 
raptures : " This morning my dear father carried me 
to Dr. Herschel. That great and very extraordinary 
man received us almost with open arms. He is very 
fond of my father, who is one of the council of the 
Royal Society this year, as well as himself." The 
fondness and the friendship must have been common- 
place, when, twelve years later. Dr. Bumey did not 
know that Dr. Herschel had been married for ten 
years, and was the father of a son six years of age. 
But the young lady's admiration knows no abatement. 
Nine months after, it rises to, "Dr. Herschel is a 
delightful man ; so unassuming with his great know- 
ledge, so willing to dispense it to the ignorant, and 
so cheerful and easy in his general manners that, were 
he no genius, it would be impossible not to remark 
him as a pleasing and sensible maa" Miss Bumey's 
picture is not over-coloured, according to the evidence 
of other eye-witnesses. She was then thirty-four years 
of age, and seven years after married a French emi- 
grant, without fortune and without prospects. En- 
thusiasm such as she showed for William Herschel, 

"^ Memoirs J p. 321, "Was called from his lucrative employment at 


and pardonably showed, may have been akin to a 
warmer feeling; but his marriage for money, partly 
at least, somewhat cooled her raptures, or her hopes. 

Dr. Burney has also presented the world with word- 
pictures of himself and Herschel, which are full of 
life and amusement. Ab time went on, he was fired 
with the ambition of distinguishing himself in poetry 
as well as music. He believed he had wing-power 
suflScient to soar to heights of poetry as high as 
Newton or Herschel reached in prose. He proposed 
in fact to write a Newtoniad and a Herscheliad for 
the enlightenment of future ages. He made no secret 
of his purpose; his daughters encouraged him to 
undertake the work; Herschel was consulted, was 
flattered, was persuaded or cajoled. The King, the 
Queen, the Princesses heard of the great work; the 
Court, of course, whatever some people of sense may 
have thought or said, echoed the wishes and praises 
of their superiors, and the poet proceeded, amidst 
applause, to complete his Poetical History of Astro- 
nomy. It was the age of didactic poems. Darwin's 
Botanic Garden had been a success, and parts of it 
were so written that they deserved and won the 
applause of intelligent readers. Probably Dr. Burney 
imagined that astronomy, which was then filling the 
world with wonder, was an equally good field for 
a great poem. He certainly believed that it was a 
book he was competent to write: but, while he was 
convinced of his ability to ascend to the heights of 
Parnassus, he had doubts of his knowledge of the 
science. To solve these doubts an interview with 
Herschel was necessary. The story then proceeds, 
September 28, 1798. 


"I drove through Slough in order to ask at Dr. 
Herschel's door when my visit would be least incon- 
venient to him — that night or next morning. The 
good soul was at dinner, but came to the door himself 
to press me to alight immediately, and partake of his 
family repast: and this he did so heartily that I 
could not resist. ... I expected (not knowing that 
Herschel was married) only to have found Miss Her- 
schel; but there was a very old lady, the mother, I 
believe, of Mra Herschel, who was at the head of the 
table herself, and a Scots lady (a Miss Wilson, daughter 
of Dr. Wilson of Glasgow, an eminent astronomer). 
Miss Herschel, and a little boy. They rejoiced at the 
accident, which had brought me there, and hoped I 
would send my carriage away and take a bed with 

" We soon grew acquainted — I mean the ladies and 
I — and before dinner was over we seemed old friends 
just met after a long absence. Mra Herschel is 
sensible, good-humoured, unpretending, and well-bred ; 
Miss Herschel all shjmess and virgin modesty; the 
Scots lady sensible and harmless; and the little boy 
entertaining, promising, and comical. Herschel, you 
know, and everybody knows, is one of the most 
pleasing and well-bred natural characters of the pre- 
sent age, as well as the greatest astronomer." 

"The shyness and virgin modesty" of little Miss 
Herschel, at the youthful age of forty-eight, are over- 
done in this word-picture by Dr. Bumey. Could we 
have got her views of their visitor's flattery and 
folly, they would perhaps have been an amusing 
addition to the fund of drollery and acidity, with 
which her recollections are pleasantly flavoured. And 


they would have been to the point. When Dr. Bumey 
made Herschel aware of his purpose in calling, the 
latter insisted on the trunk being unpacked, the 
poem produced, and the reading finished then and 
there. What the poet knew would be the work of 
a week or a month, if the book had been finished, 
the astronomer hoped to get out of the road as 
speedily as he would an ordinary observation on a 
starry night. He found himself buttonholed to in- 
stalments that spread over many months, and seem 
to have grown very captivating, though he must have 
soon seen that, if his was the sword of fame, Bumey 
considered his tongue as the more important trumpet, 
that would blow that fame abroad to all time. But 
the situation was full of surprises. "He made a 
discovery to me," Dr. Burney goes on to say, " which 
had I known it sooner, would have overset me, and 
prevented my reading any part of my work. He 
said that he had almost always had an aversion to 
poetry, which he regarded as the arrangement of 
fine words, without any useful meaning or adher- 
ence to truth ; but that when truth and science were 
united to these fine words, he liked poetry very 
well." This is rather an odd confession to come 
from a man whose sister tells us, " He composed glees, 
catches, etc., for such voices as he could secure, as it 
was not easy to find a singer to take the place of 
Miss Linley."^ However, Dr. Bumey managed to 
persuade him that in his didactic poem fine words 
were united to science and truth. The astronomer 
called on the poet in town, lived in his house, and 

^ Was the song referred to on p. 321 of the Manoirs, " In thee I bear 
so dear a part," his own? It "was going to be published by desire." 


gave audience to his verses : " Herschel was so humble 
as to confess that I knew more of the history of 
astronomy than he did, and had surprised him with 
the mass of information I had got together. . . . He 
thanked me for the entertainment and instruction 
I had given him. 'Can anything be grander?' and 
all this before he knows a word of what I have 
said of himself — all his discoveries, as you may 
remember, being kept back for the twelfth and last 

After an interval of seven months and more, a long 
story follows of Herschel's patience and good humour 
under repeated doses of poetry, conceit, and undue 
self-importance from Dr. Burney. The latter's letter 
to his daughter, then Madame D'Arblay, is dated, 
"Slough, Monday morningy July 22, 1799, in bed 
at Dr. Herschel's, half -past five, where I can neither 
sleep nor lie idle," and runs thus: "I believe I told 
you on Friday that I was going to finish the perusal 
of my astronomical verses to the great astronomer 
on Saturday." Burney had already read to him the 
Newtoniad, and other pieces. He was now come to 
the Herscheliad, about twenty years too soon, for 
the astronomer had not reached the height of his 
fame in 1799. "After tea Herschel proposed that 
we two should retire into a quiet room in order to 
resume the perusal of my work, in which no progress 
has been made since last December. The evening was 
finished very cheerfully ; and we went to our bowers 
not much out of humour with each other or the 
world." Much more follows, revealing the self-com- 
placency and conceit of the man, along with the 
modesty and retiring nature of Herschel. There were 


only two men on the terrace or in the Castle concert- 
room that evening, the King and Dr. Bumey; and 
the important subject talked of was Dr. Bumey's 

Herschers friendship with Dr. Wilson,^ the Pro- 
fessor of Astronomy in Glasgow University, was 
probably the reason of repeated visits paid by him 
to Scotland. Of the first of these visits no notice 
is taken by his sister, a somewhat singular omission. 
It was paid in the summer of 1792. The second 
known visit was made eighteen years after, is briefly 
referred to by his sister, and is confounded by his 
biographers with that of 1792. It took place in 1810. 
A third visit, obscurely hinted at by his sister, took 
place the following year. In a paper read to the 
Royal Society in 1812, he mentions an observation 
of the comet of 1811 made by him at Glasgow, and 
records another which he made at Alnwick on his 
way south, some weeks later. That Glasgow may 
have been to Herschel a place of summer pilgrimage 
more frequently than on these three visits seems not 
improbable. His friendship with the Wilsons and 
their famihes, like that with Dr. Watson, was close and 
long continued, the friendship of worthy men, holding 
each other in the highest esteem. As he visited Dr. 
Watson at Bath and Dawlish, so he appears to have 
visited the Wilsons at Glasgow. At any rate we 
know that he " was generally from home " in summer. 

When Herschel was in Scotland in the summer 
of 1792, he was accompanied by a Russian friend. 
General Komarzewsky. So intimate were the two 

^ Alexander Wilson was Professor of Astronomy from 1760 to 1784 ; 
his son Patrick from 1784 to 1799. 


that the General " used to say to Herschel, Why does 
not he (meaning Bang George ill.) make you Duke 
of Slough ? " Probably his sister thought the same, 
but the pardonable flattery created a bond between 
them, which she does not seem ever to have forgotten. 
On reaching Glasgow, Herschel found a pleasant 
surprise awaiting him and his friend, as new as it 
was unexpected. Both of them were to be honoured 
with the freedom of the city. Glasgow was then a 
town, where salmon-fishers dried their nets on that 
busy centre of trade, the Broomielaw, and was 
inhabited by not more than a tenth of its present 
population ; but its magistrates were far-seeing men, 
who crowned theii* city with honour when they 
formally entered on their Burgess Boll the name of 
William Herschel. Their Council Records contain 
the following:!— 

'' Glasgow, 19^^ Juw 1792. 

"The said day Dr. William Herschel, Astronomer, 
and General Homarseuski are unanimously admitted 
honorary Burgesses and Guild Brethren of this City." 

An Edinburgh newspaper ^ recorded the homage 
thus paid to science by the merchant city of the 
west, but the Edinburgh Town Council, neither then 
nor subsequently, followed the example so honourably 
set by Glasgow. 

^ I am indebted for this extract to the kindness of Sir James 
Marwick, the Town Clerk of Glasgow. 

There appears to be some doubt about the spelling of the Bussian 
name in the Council Record. 

' Edinburgh Ooura/ntf June 28, 1792. 


Another visit paid by Herschel was to Paris at 
the commencement of the shortlived peace of Amiens 
in 1801. From the brief notes preserved in his sister's 
Memoirs it appears that, on July 13, "my brother, 
Mrs. H., my nephew John, and Miss Baldwin left 
Slough to go to Paris." The next entry is, " Aug. 25th. 
— All returned with my nephew dangerously ill. 
Going daily for some hours to work at the Observa- 
tory, and to receive visitors and letters, had not 
hastened my recovery, for it required no less than 
seven months before I could be without the attend- 
ance of Dr. Pope." During these weeks of holiday 
in France, Herschel had opportunities of renewing 
or strengthening the friendly feelings with which the 
astronomers of that country, during an age of great 
hostility between the two nations, regarded the 
labours of their English brethren. They had shown 
their esteem for him in particular by choosing him 
as a member of the Institute, one of the highest 
honours that could be bestowed on a man of science. 
But his visit waa made more remarkable by an 
interview with Napoleon Buonaparte, who was then 
First Consul, and afterwards Emperor. Twelve years 
later he gave an account of it to Thomas Campbell, 
the poet, who met him at Brighton, and thus records 
the story : ^ — 

" I was anxious to get from him as many particulars 
as I could about his interview with Buonaparte. 
The latter, it was reported, had astonished him by his 
astronomical knowledge. 

" * No,* he said ; * the First Consul did surprise me by 
his quickness and versatility on all subjects; but in 

^ Beattie's Life o/Camjfbell, ii. 234, 235, 239. 


science he seemed to know little more than any well- 
educated gentleman, and of astronomy much less 
for instance than our own King. His general air/ 
he said, * was something like affecting to know more 
than he did know/ He was high and tried to be 
great with Herschel, I suppose, without success ; and 
'I remarked/ said the astronomer, 'his hypocrisy in 
concluding the conversation on astronomy by observing 
how all these glorious views gave proofs of an 
Almighty Wisdom/ I asked him if he thought the 
system of Laplace to be quite certain, with regard 
to the total security of the planetary system from 
the effects of gravitation losing its present balance? 
He said. No ; he thought by no means that the universe 
was secured from the chance of sudden losses of 

It is unfortunate that no other record exists of the 
estimate formed of Napoleon by Herschel. Campbell 
may have imported into the astronomer's words turns 
of thought which he never meant to convey, and a 
man is sometimes more free of speech in conversa- 
tion than he would be in print. An interviewer, as 
modem journalism has proved, may, even without 
knowing it, give an unhappy twist to a man's words 
and thoughts. Assuming, however, that the poet's 
report is strictly correct, and remembering that the 
great bitterness of Herschel's life sprang from a 
French victory, unforgettable by him or his relations, 
his words must be received with a discount unavoid- 
able in the circumstances. Both poet and astronomer 
show their feelings, perhaps, by the use of the long 
obsolete title "First Consul" instead of the better 
known ^* Emperor," and it ought never to have been 


said that Napoleon, a trained and experienced officer 
of artillery, a member of the mathematical section 
of the Institute of France, and the founder of the 
Egyptian Institute, knew little more of science than 
any well-educated gentleman. To compare his know- 
ledge of astronomy with that of George III. is unfair. 
If Herschel meant nothing more than what the King 
learned from him and Mainburg and Bevis during 
half a century, of the ways and methods of observing, 
it may be perfectly true, and yet may have been 
such as Napoleon, with his natural quickness and 
his knowledge of mathematics, could have picked 
up in an hour or two. But a comparison of the 
two men — one doing little more than signing his 
name, the other leading mighty armies, fighting 
terrible battles, and ruling almost a whole continent 
— seems exceedingly absurd, from an intellectual point 
of view. Nor should it be forgotten that Napoleon, 
by taking the learned men of France to Egjrpt with 
him, entertaining them at his table on shipboard, 
and protecting them in their researches, laid the 
foundation of a new science, which has fiUed man- 
kind with wonder — the languages and records of 
the ancient worlds of Egypt and Assyria. To say 
that he affected to know more than he did know 
was, if true, a justifiable pretence in a man ruling 
over many nations, and absorbed in multitudinous 
details. But to charge him with hypocrisy for 
expressing his views on Almighty Wisdom is not 
creditable to either poet or astronomer. If Herschel 
conversed with him by means of an interpreter, the 
latter may have done, and possibly would do, injustice 
to the Emperor, perht^ps to the astronomer also. But 


it is not likely that Napoleon, who wrote to Laplace 
about his great works, and was on intimate terms with 
the greatest minds of France, would descend to parade 
knowledge he did not possess, or indulge in a hypocrisy 
that was altogether out of place. Even his biographer 
writes, "The impression left upon Campbell's mind 
by this conversation appears to have been a little 
too strong." 

Far more pleasant is the view given by Campbell of 
the astronomer himself. "I spent all Sunday with 
him and his family," he says. " His simplicity, his 
kindness, his anecdotes, his readiness to explain — and 
make perfectly perspicuous too — his own sublime con- 
ceptions of the universe are indescribably charming. 
He is seventy-six, but fresh and stout ; and there 
he sat, nearest the door, at his friend's house, alter- 
nately smiling at a joke, or contentedly sitting 
without share or notice in the conversation. Any 
train of conversation he follows implicitly ; anything 
you ask he labours with a sort of boyish earnestness 
to explain — a great, simple, good old man." The 
impression made on Campbell's mind is summed up 
in these words : " I really and unfeignedly felt as 
if I had been conversing with a supernatural intelli- 
gence. . . . After leaving Herschel I felt elevated and 
overcome; and have in writing to you made only 
this memorandum of some of the most interesting 
moments of my life." 

A German writer, who paid a visit to Herschel at 
Slough a few years afterwards, has left an equally 
pleasant picture of the astronomer-sage. 

"While we were standing by this machine (the 
great telescope), which we more admired than com- 



prehended, its master appeared, a cheerful old man, 
aged eighty-one. How unassumingly did he make 
his communications ! How lightly did he ascend the 
steps to the gallery! With what calm pleasure did 
he seem to enjoy the success of his efforts in life ! All 
accounts from his native country appeared to please 
him, although the German language had become 
somewhat less familiar to his ear. After a short 
conversation, we took our leave, charged with friendly 
greetings to all beyond the sea, who might still remem- 
ber him. 

" Herschel is unmarried, but his sister Caroline resides 
with him, not only as a superintendent of his house- 
hold, and support of his old age, but also as a partaker 
of his studies. She has been his constant assistant 
in his labours, and has made some discoveries herself, 
among which were five comets in the years 1786, 
1791, a dissertation on which she laid before the 
Royal Society. Both of them enjoy the love and 
esteem of all that approach them. 

"Herschel's earthly labour is now, I presume, at 
an end, and the time cannot be far distant when we 
shall be able to say of him, 

'Candidus consuetum miratur limen Olympi, 
Sub pedibusque, — ^nubes et sidera videt:'" 

In terms of his appointment as King's Astronomer, 
Herschel was bound to receive visitors sent from 
Windsor Castle, and to explain to them his instruments, 
as well as to act the part of showman of the heavens. 
Probably this dangling at the heels of titled nothings 
brought him money from the sale of telescopes, but it 
was a tax on his time and strength, which his sister 


saw and dreaded from the first. "I know how 
wretched and feverish one feels after two or three 
nights' waking," Caroline writes of her own all-night 
vigils. With a woman's quickness for those she loves, 
she sometimes managed to shield her brother, wearied, 
like her, with an all-night sitting, from these thought- 
less callers. " In my way into the garden," she writes, 
as far back as 1797, "I was met and detained by 
Lord S. and another gentleman, who came to see my 
brother and his telescopes. By way of preventing too 
long an interruption, I told the gentlemen that I had 
just found a comet, and wanted to settle its place. I 
pointed it out to them, and after having seen it they 
took their leave." But she could not always thus act 
the part of guardian angel. On October 4, 1806, 
" two parties from the Castle came to see the comet," 
observed two days before, "and during the whole 
month my brother had not an evening to himself. . . . 
It has ever been my opinion that on the 14th of 
October his nerves received a shock of which he 
never got the better afterwards ; for on that day (in 
particular) he had hardly dismissed his troop of men," 
assisting him in the laborious work of polishing the 
40-f eet mirror, " when visitors assembled, and from the 
time it was dark till past midnight he was on the 
grass-plot surrounded by between fifty and sixty 
persons, without having had time for putting on 
proper clothing, or for the least nourishment passing 
his lips. Among the company, I remember, were the 
Duke of Sussex, Prince Galitzin, Lord Damley, a 
number of officers. Admiral Boston, and some ladies." 
The picture is outlined with a clearness nothing but 
strong feeling could inspire ; the strain was manifestly 


too great, and it was tearing down his enfeebled frame. 
For sixteen years the battle continued ; the phases of 
it are recorded by his biographer, and little remains 
but to trace in her words, how year after year saw his 
strength declining and the flame of life dying out. At 
the same time it is diflicult to understand how Herschel 
and his wife allowed this process of painful decay to 
go forward unchecked. He did not require thus to die 
in harness actually by inches. Both of them were 
wealthy ; ^ and though he had resigned office, it is not 
probable that his pension would have been withdrawn. 
But the story of fading strength is told in words that 
cannot be explained away. 

"When all hopes for the return of vigour and strength 
necessary for resuming the unfinished task of polishing 
the great mirror was gone, all cheerfulness and spirits 
had also forsaken him, and his temper was changed 
from the sweetest almost to a pettish one; and for 
that reason I was obliged to refrain from troubling 
him with any questions, though ever so necessary, for 
fear of irritating or fatiguing him." Want of room, 
the refusal of funds to meet expenses, the great 
telescope "nearly fallen into decay almost in all its 
parts," "every nerve of the dear man unstrung by 
over-exertion," may well send a thrill of sympathetic 
sorrow through every reader of the story. Neither 
Brighton nor Bath, nor summer visits to Edinburgh 
or Glasgow could restore the lost tone: "A farther 
attempt at leaving the work complete became im- 
possible." How sorrowful the entries for more than a 

^ His personal effects are set down in his will at £6000, and he left 
£25,000 more in 3 per cent. Eeduced Annuities to his son, besides 
other large legacies. 


twelvemonth after ! " My brother not well," " his life 
despaired of," " permitted to see him, but only for two 
or three minutes " ! And in this time of distress the 
worthless Dietrich is causing them no end of trouble 
by his conduct. Let it be said on his behalf that his 
daughter, Mrs. Knipping, atoned in future years, to 
some extent at least, for her father's shortcomings. 
She was the faithful and trusted attendant of her 
aunt Caroline during the last years of her long life. 
As years roll on, the record remains equally mournful : 
" His strength is now (1815), and has for the last two 
or three years not been equal to the labour required 
for polishing 40-feet mirrors"; at a Royal "fete at 
Frogmore" (1817) " I was obliged to go home with my 
brother," who " found himself too feeble to remain in 
company." But feebleness and ill-health gave no 
remission from a showman's duty: "The Archduke 
Michael of Russia, with a numerous attendance, came 
to see Jupiter," etc. (1818). Princesses, archdukes, lords 
and ladies came to see many objects in the 10-f t. and other 
telescopes (1819), unaware that the sage-astronomer, 
whom they were treating as a showman, was hastening 
to the grave. His sister " with much concern saw that 
he had exerted himself too much above his strength." 

" A small slip of yellow paper " traced by a tremu- 
lously feeble hand, indicating the appearance of "a 
great comet with a long tail," was among the last 
communications from Herschel to his sister. She kept 
it as a relic of a lamp of life that once burned brightly, 
and was then flickering in the socket. For three years 
it continued to flicker, till the end came, on August 25, 
1822. A noble light of humanity and science then set 
for ever on this earthly scen^, 


The writings of Herschel may be said tx> be contained 
in that wonderful repository of science and observation. 
The Transactions of the Royal Society. He contri- 
buted sometimes one, sometimes two or three or four 
papers in a year between 1780 and 1818, except in the 
years 1813 and 1816. Few scientific writers were so 
active with their pen. Everard Home, in a different 
sphere of research, surpassed him in the number of his 
contributions ; but two thousand quarto passes — to say 
nothing of valuable and instructive diJ^ams-filled 
with Wonderful discoveries, rare or useful observations, 
noble theories, and lofty imaginings formed a life-work 
of unusual merit. They were written in a language 
that became familiar to him in a foreign country only 
after he passed his twentieth year. Titles and text 
are not unfrequently somewhat prolix, but what was 
a peculiarity of the age cannot be attributed as a fault 
to HerscheL His sister, to whom the world is indebted 
for the form in which not a few of these papers 
appeared, carefully preserved seventy-two of her 
brother's in five volumes, which she transferred to 
his son's keeping in 1830. Only sixty-nine papers 
were laid before the Royal Society and one before the 
Royal Astronomical. What the other contents of her 
bundle were she has not informed us. 

In the writings of Herschel and his sister there is a 
singular silence on the affairs of another world than 
this material universe, in whose vast surroundings we 
spend our brief earthly life. However, it is not an 
unbroken silence. His sister repeatedly refers to a 
future state, and to a home she longed for, a meeting- 
place with those she loved and worked with on earth. 
She l^ft England less than two months after her 


brother William's death, "parted with her little 
property," and " thought at that time she should not 
live a twelvemontL" She lived for twenty-six years 
after, "alone" and disappointed. During that long 
period she gave expression to hopes which may be 
justly regarded as echoes of sentiments expressed by 
her brother. Unquestionably her mind was a mirror 
that truly reflected hia It is evident also from his 
conversation with Thomas Campbell that he enter- 
tained a horror of hypocrisy, which may have imposed 
silence on him when he would otherwise have spoken 
out. Once, in a philosophical paper, he did speak out 
on a future state of rewards and punishmenta Had 
the matter not lain very near his heart, he would 
scarcely have written as he did. The subject of the 
paper was the Constitution of the Sun. Referring 
to the views of certain writers on the place of punish- 
ment for the wicked, he says— 

" The sun, viewed in this light, appears to be nothing 
else than a very eminent, large, and lucid planet, 
evidently the first, or in strictness of speaking, the 
only primary one of our system ; all others being truly 
secondary to it. Its similarity to the other globes of 
the solar system with regard to its solidity, its 
atmosphere, and its diversified surface; the rotation 
upon its axis, and the fall of heavy bodies, leads us on 
to suppose that it is most probably inhabited, like 
the rest of the planets, by beings whose organs are 
adapted to the peculiar circumstances of that vast 

" Whatever fanciful poets might say, in making the 
sun the abode of blessed spirits, or angry moralists 
devise, in pointing it out as a fit place for the punish- 


ment of the wicked, it does not appear that they had 
any other foundation for their assertions than mere 
opinion and vague surmise; but now I think my- 
self authorized, upon astronomical principles, to 
propose the sun as an inhabitable world, and am 
persuaded that the foregoing observations, with the 
conclusions I have drawn from them, are fully 
sufficient to answer every objection that may be 
made against it." 

A man who filled the world with his renown as 
Herschel did, and who charmed all who happened to 
meet him as we know he charmed Miss Bumey, 
Thomas Campbell, and Niemeyer, could not have been 
expected to leave this life without worthy commemora- 
tion from a poet's pen. Dr. Bumey's Herscheliad 
was never published; Campbell preserved silence 
except in poetic prose, written while the astronomer 
was still living ; and no one seems to have addressed 
himself to what was almost a duty of the age, except a 
writer, who hailed from Teversal Rectory, and was 
unable to force Uranus with its proper quantity into a 
line of poetry.^ 

" Herschel, alas, great astronomic sage, 
Has sunk in death, yet full of honoured age, 
Through widest space the heavenly orbs he viewed. 
The comet's track, and stars unnumbered shewed ; 
Ouranus first he saw, with all its train, 
And fires volcanic found in Luna's plain." 

The Herscheliad could scarcely have contained poorer 
or more unworthy lines. 

Far more worthy of record is the eulogium passed 
by Arago : " We may confidently assert, relative to the 

^ OemtUmaWs Magazine, vol. zcii. (1822). 


little house and garden of Slough, that it is the spot of 
all the world where the greatest number of discoveries 
have been made. The name of that village will never 
perish: science will transmit it religiously to our 
latest posterity." 



With the intuition of genius, Herschel, at an early 
period in his career, leaped to the conclusion that, as 
a planet revolves round the sun, so, in the regions of 
space, stars may revolve round stars, or sun round sun. 
It was a magnificent idea, apparently beyond proof, 
and would be reckoned among the useless things of 
science. " We have already shown," he wrote in 1803, 
"the possibility that two stars, whatever be their 
relative magnitudes, may revolve, either in circles or 
ellipses, round their common centre of gravity; and 
that, among the multitude of the stars of the heavens, 
there should be many sufficiently near each other to 
occasion this mutual revolution, must also appear 
highly probable." A sun of enormous size and bright- 
ness revolving round another sun as big or as bright, 
but it may be of a different colour, might be and really 
was regarded as the dream of a poet, imagining things 
that mathematics, with inexorable logic, gave no coun- 
tenance to. But imagination sometimes realises truth 
long before the facts of science make it known. It 
was so here. " I shall therefore now proceed to give an 
account of a series of observations on double stars, com- 
prehending a period of about twenty-five years, which, 
if I am not mistaken, will go to prove that many of 



them are not merely double in appearance, but must be 
allowed to be real binary combinations of two stars, inti- 
mately held together by the bond of mutual attraction." 

Herschel's first catalogue of double stars was pre- 
sented to the Royal Society in a memoir of fifty pages 
on January 10, 1782. It was a work of enormous 
labour to be undertaken and carried out by a hard- 
working musician during the nights, that followed 
days of absorbing business. Of the number 269, con- 
tained in this catalogue, 227 had not been noted by any 
astronomer before him. It was not only a new field 
of research he may be considered to have opened up. 
He had also two distinct ends in view, which may be 
said to have been equally novel. One of them was, 
by means of these double or triple systems, to discover 
the distances of the stars from our sun, and the other 
to ascertain whether " small stars revolved round large 
ones." He failed in the former, he was successful in 
the latter. The arithmetic of the one was too hard for 
him; the poetry of the other was reduced to the 
commonplace of fact, after a waiting period of twenty- 
five years. 

Everyone knows that if a tree and a house be 
in the same line of sight from a distant spectator, 
the eye of the spectator may imagine the tree to 
be at the same distance as the house, but cannot 
measure the space between them. We cannot see 
distance; it is an acquirement gained by experience 
from the sense of touch, and gained so insensibly that 
we think we see distance in front of us, height or 
depth, it may be, while, in fact, we only see length and 
breadth. An observer, seeing two stars so close that, 
to the naked eye, they seem only one, may consider 


them both at the same distance. A little reflection, 
however, soon convinces him that the one star, though 
shining at a vast distance from the other, may be so 
placed in a line drawn from our eye to the latter as 
to be nearly or altogether eclipsed by it. Sometimes 
these stars are so close that the two pass for one, till 
an improvement in the telescope separates the com- 
panions, and shows them to be distinct. . Herschel had 
this experience, and one of the most singular instances 
of it is not yet thirty years old. The dog-star Sinus 
is among the best known stars in our southern skies. 
Its brightness is forty- to sixty-fold that of the sun, 
its distance is such that a flash of light from it 
takes perhaps ten years to reach our eyes, and its 
weight exceeds that of two of our suns. This vast and 
brilliant sun was found to indulge in vagaries which 
were, and some of which still are, the puzzle of 
astronomers. They could not see, and therefore did 
not know. But although they could not see, they 
could imagine what the unseen cause of these vagaries 
was : for " the eyes of the mind can supply the want of 
the most powerful telescopes, and lead to astronomical 
discoveries of the highest importance." ^ Another star 
in the neighbourhood of Sirius, the mathematicians 
said, is moving round him. They calculated its orbit, 
they told observers where to apprehend the disturber, 
but in vain. At last the eighteen-inch object-glass, 
made for the Chicago Observatory in the United States, 
was turned on Sirius by way of trial. Great was the 
surprise of the manufacturers when they saw that the 
mighty sun had a fainter but a very bulky companion 
in his company, and was seen in the direction pre- 

^ Arago, Biographies, etc., p. 224. 


dieted by mathematicians. It is twice as heavy as our 
sun, but does not give a fiftieth part of the light. 
Stars then may be double, or treble, or even quadruple 
by nature, or by the accident of position. 

Comparing his own observations and such others as 
he could procure, Herschel calculated that the one star 
moved round the other, or that both moved round their 
common centre of gravity in the following double 
stars : — 

Castor in about 342 years 2 months. 
7 Leonis in about 1200 years, 
c Bootis in not less than 1681 years, 
d Serpentis in about 375 years. 
y Virginis in about 708 years. ^ 

Another double star that he carefully examined was 
Zeta Herculis. It presented him with a sight " which 
is new in astronomy ; it is, the occultation of one star 
by another." For twenty-one years he continued to 
keep a watch on the star. After twenty years had 
passed he could no longer perceive the smaller of the 
two companions. The following year he found "the 
apparent disk a little distorted; but there could not 
be more than about f of the apparent diameter of 
the small star wanting to a complete occultation." 
But the observations made were not sufficient to 
determine the nature of the motion that produced 
these effects. The long period of 1681 years set down 
against e Bootis, Herschel himself points out as subject 
to uncertainties, which it will take long to clear up. 

* "One thing very remarkable I must tell you, 7 Virginis is now a 
siiigU star in both the twenty-foot, and the seven-foot equatorial ! ! ! " 
(Sir John Herschel, March 8, 1836). He means that one of the two 
suns had eclipsed the other. 


A slight mistake in exceedingly small measurements 
may cause serious errors in the calculated times of 

It should not be forgotten that the King's equerry 
whom Miss Bumey, in her gossip from Windsor Castle, 
calls Colonel Welbred, foretold that time would do 
justice to Herschel, and turn the laugh at him against 
the laughers. And time has done him justice with a 
most ungrudging hand. Eight years after his death, 
it was aaked by a leader of modem enUghtenment. 
''What length of time must the cosmologist suppose 
necessary to reduce a gaseous nebula into a permanent 
planetary system ? Experience shows pretty clearly 
the inutility of such speculations." ... Of the moon's 
" origin and internal structure we neither know, nor 
ever can know, anything whatever. And if such is 
the result of our researches respecting a body placed 
almost in our immediate vicinity, there is little reason 
to hope that we shall be more successful with regard 
to those whose distances are so great that the most 
powerful telescopes are required to render them even 
visible." ^ This was written in 1830 ; it was ill-natured 
disparagement of a noble attempt to solve the mysteries 
of the universe, and to give practical proof of man's 
kinship with God; it was wholly unscientific. In 
1842 another greatly-extolled writer declared that in 
that region of inquiry there did not exist any dis- 
covered, or even, without doubt discoverable phe- 
nomenon.2 The equerries of Windsor might be laughed 
at and forgiven; the scepticism that prompted men of 
science to bid their brethren fold their hands and do 
nothing, was an unpardonable sin against truth. It 

^ Edin. Rev. li. 101. * Comte, NineteeiUh CetUwry (1897), 908. 


was of the same nature as the scientific proof that 
steamboats could not cross the Atlantic, and was 
belied, as the other was, by facts. 

To Herschel then belongs the credit not merely of 
having suspected the revolution of sun round sun in 
the far distant realms of space, but also of actually 
detecting the fact that this was going on among the 
stars. He has the credit also of having, with im- 
perfect appliances, measured the angles which enabled 
him to calculate the times of revolution of these 
systems of suns. It was a beginning, a wonderful 
beginning of a new departure in man's warfare with 
ignorance, and with the bonds that tie him down to 
the earth. He did not know, probably he was so 
wrapt up in his own conceptions of the usefulness of 
the telescope, that he could not imagine a more potent 
revealer of the secrets of the universe than a gigantic 
mirror at the bottom of a gigantic tube, or an immense 
eye at the object end of a telescope. A glass prism 
has done what the telescope could not do, revealed 
double stars where they were not known to exist, 
shown their rates of motion to or from us, and where 
an unseen ball is a companion to a living and a lighted 
sun, told us what they are made of, and enabled us 
to weigh them as if they were in the scales of a 
balance. To be able to do this, or apprehend the way 
it has been done, or even to know the fact, lifts human 
nature to a loftier height than it ever attained in the 
past, and the pioneer in this elevation of mankind was 
originally a bandsman in the Hanoverian Guards, a 
musician of Bath. Nor should it be forgotten that 
the improvement of the telescope, with which these 
revelations of the secret things of the starry heavens 


are closely connected, was largely his work. He 
laboured indefatigably himself; he invited, he also 
aroused into honourable emulation, the rivalry of 
others to equal or surpass his achievements. 

What Herschel could only suspect or assert, the 
glass prism has proved. These mighty suns, "in 
number numberless," are made of the same materials 
as our earth and our sun — iron, magnesium, hydrogen, 
sodium, etc. The vast universe is governed by the 
same laws, and made of the same matter. It is, so 
to speak, the work of one and the same building 
hand. To have risen to this simple truth by explor- 
ing the suns and systems of the universe is a reward 
worth all the time and trouble spent in working it 
out. Mankind, in this respect alone, stands on a 
loftier platform now than half a century ago. One- 
ness of plan, manifested in this widespread oneness 
of working, implies oneness of the worker. A lofty 
moral truth has resulted from the labours and specula- 
tions of which leaders of scientific truth in Europe 
formerly saw only the inutility. The Maker, Governor, 
and Upholder of all these worlds and universes is one 
and the same. Who He is, what is His central seat 
of power no telescope, no glass prism can reveaL 
Amid the wonders of infinite space and time, our 
standards of measurement and knowledge may be 
said to be our five senses, and if one of these, sight, 
were taken from us, our sphere of knowledge would 
be immeasurably reduced in extent. On the other 
hand, an addition to the senses we have, a quickening 
of the inner light, might reveal this Builder of worlds. 
His palace. His living armies, with a distinctness, a 
fulness hitherto unknown. Herschel evidently thought 


this when he stood in wondering awe before the hole 
in the heavens. 

That Herschel fell into mistakes regarding double 
stars cannot and need not be denied. It was unavoid- 
able that the first traveller in an unexplored region, 
billions of miles distant from our earth, should err in 
tracing paths, measuring time, and estimating dis- 
tances. He failed in his calculations with y Virginis, 
which he represented as two companions that revolved 
round a common centre in 708 years. His son by a 
careful discussion of the observations made since 1718 
showed that the time of revolution was not 708 years 
but 513. It was also predicted that the smaller of the 
two companions would reach the point where it is 
nearest the larger in the beginning of 1834. Even 
these revised calculations proved to be incorrect, for 
it did not reach that point till two years later. 
Observations of the star were then renewed for 
several years; new calculations were made, and the 
time of revolution of the lesser companion round the 
greater was found to be 182 years. But it came out 
that the orbit of 1834, with the time 513 years, was 
nearly the same, in part of its course, as the true orbit, 
and was " a curious example, and by no means the first 
in the history of the progress of discovery, where of 
two possible courses, each at the moment equally 
plausible, the wrong has been chosen."^ 

But Herschel's study of the fixed stars and of the 
unity of plan in nature went farther than we have 
yet traced. A paper read by him in 1814 contains 
the following facts, that might almost have been pro- 
phecies of wonders in store for men — " Stars although 

^ Min. iZev., 1848, 132-83. 


surrounded by a luminous atmosphere, may be looked 
upon as so many opaque, habitable, planetary globes ; 
differing, from what we know of our own planets, 
only in their size, and by their intrinsically luminous 
appearance. They also, like the planets, shine with 
differently coloured light. That of Arcturus and 
Aldebaran, for instance, is as different from the light 
of Sirius and Capella, as that of Mars and Saturn is 
from the light of Venus and Jupiter. A still greater 
variety of coloured star-light has already been she¥m 
to exist in many double stars, such as 7 Andromedse, 
jS Cygni, and many more. In my sweeps are also 
recorded the places of 9 deep garnet, 5 bright garnet, 
and 10 red coloured stars, of Various small magnitudes 
from the 7 th to the 12th. 

" By some experiments on the light of a few of the 
stars of the 1st magnitude, made in 1798, by a prism 
applied to the eye-glasses of my reflectors, adjustable 
to any angle, and to any direction, I had the following 
analyses : 

" The light of Sirius consists of red, orange, yellow, 
green, blue, purple, and violet. 

" a Ononis contains the same colours, but the red is 
more intense, and the orange and yellow are less 
copious in proportion than they are in Sirius. 

" Procyon contains all the colours, but proportionally 
more blue and purple than Siriua 

''Arcturus contains more red and orange and less 
yellow in proportion than Sirius. 

"Aldebaran contains much orange, and very little 

" a Lyrae contains much yellow, green, blue, and 


The foundation of what may be called a new science 
was thus laid by Herschel more than half a century 
before anything was built on it. 

In that paper also he embodied curious speculations 
on the growth of stars : " If the nebulosity should sub- 
side into the star, as seems to be indicated by the 
assumed form of the fan-shaped nebulas, the star 
would receive an increase of matter proportional to 
the magnitude and density of the nebulosity in contact 

with it/: 

Another of the subjects specially studied by Herschel 
from an early period in his career was the white clouds 
or nebulae seen, even with the naked eye, in various 
places among the stars. The telescopes of astronomers 
had not done much to add to their number or reveal 
their peculiar forms till he took the matter in hand. 
In 1786 he laid before the Royal Society a " catalogue 
of a thousand nebulae and clusters of stars." Three 
years after, he presented the Society with a " catalogue 
of a second thousand new nebulae and clusters of stars"; 
and in 1802 he added "a catalogue of 500 new 
nebulae and clusters of stars." A field of discovery so 
rich he had been left to reap alone, except in the assist- 
ance, the invaluable assistance, which he received from 
his devoted sister Caroline. He looked upon star- 
clusters and nebulae as building stones used by the 
Creator in constructing the universe; to catalogue, 
to watch, and to measure these building stones was a 
long step taken in ascertaining the plan on which the 
Almighty Architect proceeded. Herschel was laughed 
at, most unfairly laughed at, as a " lively and amusing " 
dreamer ; science has proved that he was a noble pioneer 
of modem discoveries, which inspire mankind with awe. 


The work of observing, meajsuring, and recording these 
worlds of wonder, and sometimes of surpassing beauty- 
even when seen in the magic mirror of a reflector, was 
enormous : but this indefatigable worker, with his like- 
minded sister-helper, seemed never to weary in his 
marvellous efforts to lift the curtain that hid Creation's 
glories from man. What these glories seemed (to him) 
to mean was unfolded in 1811 in a memoir, which 
anticipated by many years the doctrine of evolution 
taught by Darwin, and which showed the progress, 
slow it might be, " for, in this case, millions of years 
are perhaps but moments," but sure, of a vast body 
of gas condensing into a sun or suns with a train of 
planets around.^ 

When Herschel entered upon this inquiry he believed 
that these nebulae, or whitish clouds or milky ways are 
clusters of stars, too far off to be resolved into separate 
points of light, but blended so together as to assume 
the appearance of a little cloud in the depths of space. 
" Longer experience and a better acquaintance " with 
them induced him to change his mind. Vast masses 
of gas, in which a few stars were sometimes seen, or 
through which they shone from a greater distance, 
were believed by him to exist in space, besides those 
which an increase of telescopic power could resolve, 
as the phrase was, into stars.* It was the idea of a 
far-seeing mind, feeling its way to truth, and, in our 

^ " The reason for not having a more circumstantial account of such 
a number of objects, is that they crowded upon me at the time of 
sweeping in such quick succession that of sixty-one I could but just 
secure the place in the heavens, and of the remaining three hundred 
and sixty -three, I had only time to add the relative size" {Phil, 
Trans, for 1811, p. 290). 

•» PUL Trans, for 1811, p. 270. 


own day, it has been proved true. The prism has 
shown that these inconceivably vast masses of gas 
exist. Justice to Herschel requires that his rights 
to the first announcement of this new and startling 
view of the gradual formation of worlds should not be 
overlooked, as is sometimes done.^ "The profound 
awe," says the discoverer of the gaseous nature of some 
nebulsB, " which I felt on looking for the first time at 
that which no eye of man had seen, and which even 
the scientific imagination could not foreshow," is the 
well expressed wonder of true science, when it pene- 
trates into the workshops of the Almighty, but Her- 
schel's imagination had done more in 1811 than 
" foreshow " the discovery made fully by Sir William 
Huggins in 1864. The imagination of William Herschel 
penetrated into this secret house of wonders, and gave 
expression to what was believed to be going on in 
eternal ages and through infinite space. 

There are two magnificent nebulae to which astro- 
nomers have specially turned their telescopes, the one in 
Orion and the other in Andromeda. Writing in 1811, 
after thirty-seven years' study of these wonderfully 
mysterious clouds, Herschel thus speaks of " the great 
nebula in the constellation of Orion discovered by 
Huyghens. This highly interesting object engaged 

^ ''Sir William Herschel supposed that they [nebulae] were all really 
star-clusters, but so enormously remote that even the most powerful 
telescopes could not render visible the stars composing them" 
(Wallace, The Wonderful OerUury^ p. 44). This is a singular statement 
to come from the gifted author or co-author of the Darwinian theory. 
The reduction of the immensely vast to the comparatively small was 
Herschel's view of development or evolution in the realms of space ; the 
growth of organic life from the simple cell to the living forms of earth 
— the inverse process — is the idea or hypothesis of natural science 
to-day. See Phil, Trails,, 1791, pp. 73-83. 


my attention already in the beginning of the year 
1774, when viewing it with a Newtonian reflector I 
made a drawing of it, to which I shall have occasion 
hereafter to refer: and having from time to time 
reviewed it with my large instruments, it may easily 
be supposed that it was the very first object to which, 
in February 1787, I directed my 40-feet telescope. 
The superior light of this instrument shewed it of such 
a magnitude and brilliancy that, judging from these 
circumstances, we can hardly have a doubt of its being 
the nearest of all the nebuldd in the heavens, and as 
such will afford us many valuable informationa I 
shall however now only notice that I have placed it in 
the present order because it connects in one object the 
brightest and faintest of all nebulosities, aiid thereby 
enables us to draw several conclusions from its various 
appearance."^ By nebulosity or nebulous matter he 
meant ''that substance or rather those substances 
which give out light, whatsoever may be their nature, 
or of whatever different powers they may be pos- 
sessed." ^ From a laborious examination of these vast 
regions of visible nebulous matter, Herschel found 
reason to conclude that the power of gravitation was 
condensing the matter towards one or more centres, 
which shone with greater brilliance than the rest of 
the mass. A motion of rotation round an axis would 
also probably result from innumerable particles press- 
ing towards a centre, and the matter which did not 
condense into a nucleus — perhaps a star or sun — 

^PhU. Trans, for 1811, pp. 278, 279, 277, 818. "The nature of 
diffused nebulosity is such that we often see it joined to real nebule." 
He means apparently gas sometimes very rare joined to matter con- 

densed or condensing into stars. 


would "remain expanded about the nucleus in the 
shape of a very extended atmosphere ; or it may be of 
an elastic nature, and be kept from uniting with the 
nucleus, as their elasticity causes the atmospheres of 
the planets to be expanded about them. In this case 
we have another property of the nebulous substance to 
add to the former qualities of its matter." 

No one can read even an outline of these interesting 
speculations by an adventurer into the workshops of 
creation, without feeling awed by the boldness and 
sublimity of his views, as well as desirous of knowing 
what else he saw in his magic mirror, or thought he 
saw, of the machinery in motion. What he has told 
us of a mighty volume of nebulous matter is that " a 
nucleus, to which these nebulae seem to approach, is an 
indication of consolidation," and that the faintness 
of the light in the parts outside the nucleus arises from 
" a gradual diminution of the length and density of the 
nebulous matter, occasioned by its gravitation towards 
the nucleus into which it probably subsides."^ He 
believes that "a pretty bright round nebula about a 
quarter or one minute in diameter, and looking no 
bigger than a pea, may have shrunk into itself till it is 
now nineteen hundred times more dense than at first, 
— a proportion of density more than double that of 
water to air."^ In another case he calculates that 
"the condensation may have reduced the nebulous 
matter to less than the one hundred and twenty-two 
thousandth part of its former bulk." ^ To understand 
what these figures mean, suppose a sphere whose 
radius is nearly three thousand millions of miles, or as 
far as from the sun to our outermost known planet, 

1 Pha. Trans., 1811, pp. 308, 310, 311, 315, 316, 318. 


Neptune, to be filled with gas, luminous or not. It 
would not occupy more than a fortieth part of the 
space in the heavens occupied by the great nebula in 
Orion, and it is doubtful if our best telescopes reveal 
the whole of that nebula's extent in any direction. It 
is within such vast spaces that Herschel imagined this 
world-making process to be going on. Man's imagina- 
tion quails in his attempt to grasp the space required 
for such a workshop, the tools employed, or the time 
taken to condense ''nebulous matter" into dazzling 
suns or dark companions. 

We are so much accustomed to feast our eyes on 
drawings of a few magnificent and singularly shaped 
nebuldB, that thought is apt to overlook the vast 
numbers of them scattered over the heavens in all 
stages of size or progress. Herschel did not fall into 
this mistake. His object was higher than to satisfy 
curiosity or to excite wonder. He had the feeling that 
there was a process going on, of which he believed he 
could trace not a few of the stages. The smallest and 
the least wonderful of the nebulae might thus prove to 
be as important in tracing out this progress, as the 
most awe-inspiring. Nor did he look upon all of them 
as resolvable into stars or masses of shining matter, 
more or less rare. He believed that some of them 
were not luminous, but dark ; but he made no attempt 
to explain, as may be at least attempted to-day, how a 
vast mass of invisible gas may become lighted up, and 
send its brightness off" on a journey of ten or twenty or 
fifty years, to publish to us the changes that, in process 
of ages, had taken place in its nature. It was the dis- 
covery of world-making he was aiming at in these long 
and laborious, but not wearisome researches. Others 


have followed in his footsteps with a better equipment 
of instruments, if not with a richer endowment of 
insight or genius. Others still have looked upon his 
lifelong quest as an attempt to reach the foot of the 
rainbow ladder, or to master the secret of the philo- 
sopher's stone. His papers remain a wonderful monu- 
ment of ingenious research and marvellous discovery, 
of lofty imaginings and reasoned conclusions. 

These nebulae and clusters of stars Herschel called 
milky ways, different from the great Milky Way, in 
which our solar system is imbedded. He held at first 
that they are in no respect connected with our milky 
way, but are star-islands or world-systems, perhaps 
only in process of formation, at immense distances from 
our sun, outlying provinces of creation, as it were, in 
the vast ocean of ether, or constructions only begun in 
the realms of space. He is supposed to have fallen 
from this opinion in his later years, and to have 
imagined that all these milky ways and star-clusters 
were connected with ours. His latest papers give no 
indication of this change of view. He appears indeed 
only to have changed his view in so far as to have 
regarded our milky way as the greatest of all the 
milky ways, visible in our telescopes : but on this point 
he was scarcely justified in speaking, as the distance of 
the nearest nebula not only was and continues to be 
unknown, but the means of determining the distances 
of these white clouds have not yet been discovered. It 
is thought that the great nebula in Orion, if not the 
nearest to us, is among the nearest. Herschel main- 
tained this. He had some grounds also for believing 
that changes had taken place in the positions of the 
nebulous matter during the thirty-seven years he 


had been watching, and still greater changes since 
Huyghens, a century and a half earlier, gave a picture 
of it in his SysteTna Satumiwm. " The various appear- 
ances of this nebula," Herschel writes, " are so instruct- 
ive that I shall apply them to the subject of the 
partial opacity of the nebulous matter. . . . For when 
I formerly saw three fictitious nebulous stars, it will 
not be contended that there were three small shining 
nebulosities, just in the three lines, in which I saw 
them, of which two are now gone, and only one remain- 
ing. As well might we ascribe the light surrounding a 
star, which is seen through a mist, to a quality of 
shining belonging to that particular part of the mist, 
which by chance happened to be situated where the 
star is seen. If then the former nebulosity of the two 
stars which have ceased to be nebulous can only be 
ascribed to an effect of the transit or penetration 
through nebulous matter which deflected and scattered 
it, we have now a direct proof that this matter can 
exist in a state of opacity, and may possibly be diffused 
in many parts of the heavens without our being able to 
perceive it." 

It would be unjust to Herschel to pass over the 
condemnation of his views, pronounced by Sir David 
Brewster in his Life of Sir Isodc Newton, Without 
mentioning the name of William Herschel, or of La 
Place, who advocated the same views. Sir David writes 
as one who felt sure that Newton, for mathematical 
reasons alone, would have taken a side against this 
Nebular Hypothesis.^ In the last of the famous four 
letters written by Sir Isaac to Dr. Bentley, the great 
classical scholar and the author of Phalaria, he enters 

* Life of Newton, ii. 130. 


into a mathematical criticism of the opinion of Plato 
" that the motion of the planets is such as if they had 
all been created by God in some region very remote 
from our system, and let fall from thence towards the 
sun, their falling motion being turned aside into a 
transverse one whenever they arrived at their several 
orbits." This, of course, is wholly unlike HerscheFs 
theory, or that of Laplace. But of these letters Sir 
David says: "In the present day they possess a 
peculiar interest. They show that the NebvXar 
Hypothesis, the dull and dangerous heresy of the age, 
is incompatible with the established laws of the 
material universe, and that an omnipotent arm was 
required to give the planets their position and 
motions in space, and a presiding intelligence to 
assign to them the different functions they had to 

These views of Sir David Brewster, eminent man of 
science though he was and sincere believer in an 
almighty arm ruling all the motions of material bodies, 
do not seem justified by facts. Even his great name 
is not weighty enough to counterbalance that of 
Laplace, when the former aflSrms and the latter denies 
that the Nebvla/r Hypothesis " is incompatible with the 
established laws of the material universe." Newton's 
speculations on Plato's dream of the origin of planets 
had nothing to do with the hypothesis in question. It 
may be " a dull and dangerous heresy," as Sir David 
believed, "but it denies neither an almighty arm nor a 
presiding mind." Recent discoveries have given more 
probability to the theory — if we are entitled to use that 
name : and Herschel's inductions from observed and 
classified facts have gone far to prove that Laplace's 


imaginings rest on a more solid foundation than 
theories, at their birth, can usually boast of. 

In pursuit of his favourite study — the plan of the 
Creatoi: in constructing the Temple of the Heavens— 
Herschel, with fuller knowledge, and after many years 
of labour, departed from Cassini's simple classification 
of nebute, and adopted another in closer agreement 
with facta It was as follows : — 

Class I. Bright nebulae .... 288 in all. 

„ II. Faint nebulse .... 909 „ „ 

„ III. Very faint nebulae . . . 984 „ „ 

„ IV. Planetary nebulse or stars with 
burs, with milky chevelure, 
with short rays, remarkable 
shapes, etc 79 „ „ 

„ V. Very large nebulae . . . 52 „ „ 

„ VI. Very compressed and rich clus- 
ters of stars .... 42 „ „ 

„ VII. Pretty much compressed clusters 67 „ „ , 

„VIII. Coarsely scattered clusters of 

stars 88 „ „ 

As he entered these nebulae on a star map, it was 
evident to the eye that the parts of the heavens at a 
distance from the Milky Way are most abundant in 
white clouds. Of a connection between them and the 
Milky Way he does not appear to have been certain. 
We must leave it as he left it — in uncertainty and 
doubt. Future ages may determine whether the whole 
material universe, designed by one mind, governed by 
the same laws, built of the same materials, and upheld 
for purposes in which the mighty littleness of man 
seems to play a not unimportant part, moral as well as 
intellectual, has been spread out before our eyes. We 
can only look on in wondering adoration at the 


glory and vastness of a temple, built by Almighty 
Power and Wisdom, the forth-puttings of whose hand 
we can see and trace, but whose palace and pre- 
sence are hidden in brightness impenetrable to our 

Astronomy has made vast strides in knowledge of 
the stars since HerscheFs death. Other magicians, 
imbued with his spirit, and wielding a more wonderful 
rod of power than his 40-feet reflector, have arisen 
to walk in his footsteps, and to tread the paths of 
discovery, which more or less dimly he saw and walked 
in — double stars; treble systems; eclipses of suns; 
youthful stars; dark or dying worlds; star charts; 
photographic plates, and vast volumes of gas, lighted 
or dark. More even than in his days have the barren 
heavens proved to be a land of wonders to curious 



Of those who helped Herschel onward to fame, all 
were dead but his sister Caroline. Dr. Watson, and Sir 
Joseph Banks, the King and Herschel himself were 
gone. A pleasant and useful fellowship of great minds, 
great in respect of rank or great in intellect and heart, 
had come to its close. It had lasted for about forty 
years, more or less ; and the continuance of it so long 
without break or jar reflects the highest credit on all 
four. A union of hearts and minds so unusual is 
worthy of a passing notice. 

Sir William Watson did not belong to the Trium- 
virate as it was called, but of him Herschel always 
spoke with the deepest respect. Unworthy and un- 
scrupulous men, when they think themselves able to 
climb without further help, have no repugnance to 
kick away the ladder by which they first mounted 
into fame. Herschel did not belong to that contemptible 
class. His was a noble nature, and as generous as it 
was noble. Watson oflcred to assist him with money, 
but he preferred to meet the cost of experiment or 
manufacture out of his own labours. It was a noble 
resolve. But almost from the first he confesses obliga- 
tion, and finds a certificate for himself by linking 
his name with Watson's. The man with whose fame 



Europe was ringing, honoured himself by this modesty 
of bearing and true manhood. "Grieved to see the 
sad change in Sir William's health and spirits," 
Caroline Herschel wrote of their early friend when 
she met him and his wife at her brother's house on 
May 10, 1817, "I felt my only friend and adviser was 
lost to me." 

The Triumvirate was composed of the King, Sir 
Joseph Banks, and Sir William Herschel. 

The King was dead. Whatever may be said or 
thought of him in other respects, it should always be 
borne in mind that, after the difficulties incident to 
Herschel's introduction at Court had been overcome, he 
proved himself a munificent patron of science and an 
enlightened friend of the great observer. Accustomed 
himself to live in the centre of a crowd in his palace, 
on the terrace at Windsor, and in his public appear- 
ances, it would not occur to him that similar publicity 
could be otherwise than agreeable to his astronomer. 
When he bargained for Herschers time being devoted, 
among other things, to receiving visits from Royal or 
titled nonentities, and showing them his instruments, 
he did not consider that it was a drain on the astro- 
nomer's time and strength, which ought not to have 
been asked from him. Caroline Herschel, who saw the 
mischief wrought by this waste of energy, the irrita- 
tion caused, and the danger run from standing for 
hours on wet grass to play the showman to a crowd of 
thoughtless nobodies, complains bitterly, and not with- 
out reason, of the arrangements thus made. But the 
King cannot fairly be held blameworthy. Miss Burney 
suffered in nearly the same way. Her attendance on 
Queen Charlotte was a burden on body and soul, 


similar to the claims made on Herschel by visitors 
from Windsor Castle. Macaulay reprobates, and justly 
reprobaties, the thoughtless cruelty, to which it exposed 
a woman who could have earned by her pen ten times 
the income she received from dancing attendance on a 
queen. But the Queen was not altogether in fault 
in her case ; nor was the King in Herschel's. It was 
Court etiquette, cruel and thoughtless unquestionably ; 
— " a slavery of five years, of five years taken from the 
best part of her life, and wasted in menial drudgery or 
in recreations duller than even menial drudgery, under 
galling restraints, and amidst unfriendly or uninterest- 
ing companions." ^ It was a huge mistake to cramp 
the genius of the novelist or the astronomer by the 
formalities and triflings of a Court. It did little or no 
harm to the latter; it did irreparable wrong to the 
former. People who have lived in a crowd all their 
lives, to whom indeed it is the breath of life, cannot 
understand that it may be poison to genius. 

Sir Joseph Banks also was dead. A year after his 
death a German visitor to this country gives a pleasing 
picture of an uncommon triumvirate of rank and 
science. "In England," he says, "people have long 
been accustomed to associate with their recollections of 
their late revered Monarch, the names of these two 
veterans in science, Herschel and Banks, both not only 
of nearly the same age with the King, but also dis- 
tinguished by him with peculiar favour, and frequent 
personal intercourse. All the three members of this 
singular triumvirate were still living when I visited 
England; now the astronomer is the only survivor." 
" With good reason did Cuvier, in the panegyric he pro- 

^ Maoaulay, yii. 25. 


nounced on Sir Joseph before the French Academy, 
assert that whenever a worthy disciple, or Tnan of 
letters, feU in his way, he opened to them his treasv/res 
of nature with the greatest liberality J' Herschel ex- 
perienced from him the full benefit of this generous, 
ungrudging nature. 

Following the example of his predecessor in office as 
President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph, possessed 
of an ample fortune which enabled him to indulge the 
generosity of his heart, gave receptions to learned men 
and travellers on Sunday evenings. The stranger thus 
describes what he then saw. " I found the veteran in 
the middle library, in full dress, with the broad ribbon 
of the order of the Bath over his shoulder and breast ; ^ 
just as he used to appear when presiding at the meet- 
ings of the Royal Society. Being infirm in the feet. 
Sir Joseph sat in an arm-chair on rollers, his left arm 
resting on a table near him.* He was, it is true, 
scarcely more than the outward shell of a mind 
formerly so animated; both his apprehension and 
recollection being weak ; but his features bore a most 
engaging expression. Every stranger was at least 
announced to him, and if he had anything to shew or 
communicate, he immediately laid it before him." 

This generous, noble-hearted man did much to soften 
the horrors of war in the long and bloody strife be- 
tween this country and France. " During the voyage 
of La Perouse, the French circumnavigator, he induced 

^ As he is represented in the portrait of him painted by Phillips, in 
the possession of the Boyal Society. 

' For fourteen or fifteen years previous to his death, he lost the use 
of his lower limbs so completely from gout as to oblige him to be 
carried or wheeled by his servants in a chair : in this way he was 
conveyed to the more dignified chair of the Royal Society. 



the British Government to allow him to sail in all 
seas unmolested. He himself endeavoured, by means 
of his extensive correspondence, to procure some cer- 
tain accounts as to the disastrous result. When a 
considerable collection of natural curiosities, which 
Labillardiere had sent to France during his voyage, 
fell into the hands of English privateers, and became 
the property of the English Government, Sir Joseph 
generously exerted his influence again, and the result 
was that the cases were immediately sent to France, 
without having even been opened." ^ 

A king, a landed gentleman of great wealth, and a 
musician from Bath formed the triumvirate in science,^ 
of which our countrymen used to speak, and were 
deservedly proud for twenty years before and for 
twenty after the beginning of the present century. 
All three were dead, but they were survived for a 
quarter of a century or more by a lady, who made her- 
self famous in science and wore her well-won honours 
with the modesty of true deserving — Caroline Lucretia 
Herschel, the devoted sister and unwearied assistant 
of her brother William. With touching pathos she 
writes to Francis Baily in 1835, "It encourages me 
now to address you as an old friend, and I might 
almost say my only one, for death has not spared me 
one of those valuable men of the last century in whose 
society I had an opportunity of spending many happy 
hours, when they came to pass an astronomical night 
at Bath, Datchet, Clay Hall, and Slough." She re- 

^ This international courtesy was thus shown on no fewer than eleYen 
occasions, and some of the coUections are ''now of inestimable yalue" 
(1896) : Hooker, JoumaZ^ etc., p. zxziii. 

" Niemeyer, Scots Magaasinet i. (1823), pp. 692-93. 


mained, to the end of her long life, the same loving 
worshipper of departed greatness that she had been 
during her brother's lifetime, and the same outspoken 
critic of men and women whom she happened to meet. 
Thirteen years after she left England, she wrote: 
"Within the last two months I have been obliged to 
exert myself once more to answer two letters, one to 
Mr. De Morgan, the Secretary of the Royal Astrono- 
mical Society, the other to Mr. Baily (who, I suppose, 
is President), for they have been pleased to choose me, 
along with Mrs. Somerville, to be a member (God 
knows what for) of their Society." Promotion! she 
says, they call it in Hanover, and laughingly talks of 
" our Society, of which I am now a fellow ! " She 
was then eighty-five years of age. Apparently she 
was of the same mind as Hannah More, who, when 
she found her name proposed as an honorary member 
of the Royal Society of Literature, wrote a strong 
remonstrance, declining the distinction, chiefly "be- 
cause I consider the circumstance of sex alone a 
disqualification." ^ 

In November 1838 she was also elected an honorary 
member of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin: and 
besides she received in 1846, from the King of Prussia, 
a gold medal for science. Well earned though both of 
these honours were, she wrote with the modesty of 
true science, when she heard of the former, " I cannot 
help crying out aloud to myself, every now and then, 
* What is That for V . . . 1 think almost it is mocking 
me to look upon me as a Member of an Academy : I 
that have lived these eighteen years (against my will 
and intention) without finding as much as a single 

^ Life, ii. 307, December 23, 1820. She was then seventy-five. 


comet." At the same time she could flare up with 
true feminine fire when it seemed to her that her 
dignity, as a woman of science, was in any degree 
infringed. "This puts me in mind of Olbers saying 
somewhere,*' she wrote, " I had discovered five comets. 
Who wanted him to give the number of w/y comets when 
he knew them no better ? As far as I recollect, Dr. 
Maskelyne has observed them all, and his observations 
on them are, I daresay, all printed in the volumes of the 
Greenwich observations — at least of some he has shown 
me the proof sheets. I never called a comet mine till 
several post days were passed without any account of 
them coming to hand." She was then ninety-two years 
of age, and Olbers had died more than two years before. 

Caroline Herschel maintained to the close of her 
days the same habits of thrift, the same dread of not 
getting the two ends to meet, and the same foresight 
in providing means for ends that characterised her 
early life. She enjoyed a pension of £50 a year from 
the Civil List — a small allowance for so deserving a 
recipient. She had also an annuity of £100 settled 
on her by her brother's will — a small return, we should 
say, for the invaluable services she rendered, but a 
sum which she probably regarded as unnecessarily 
taken out of her " dear nephew's " pocket. " Let the 
time come when it may please God," she writes in 
her eighty-fifth year, "I leave cash enough behind 
to clear me from all and any obligations to all who 
here do know me. Even the expenses of a respectable 
funeral lie ready to enable my friend Mrs. Beckedorff, 
and one of my nieces to fulfil my directions. 

"I hope you will pardon my troubling you with 
such doleful subjects, but I wish to show you that 


my income is by one third more than I have the 
power to spend, for by a twelve years' trial I find 
that I cannot get rid of more than 600 thl. = £100 per 
year, without making myself ridiculous." 

Her thoughts were not set on money, or on the 
respect which money, honourably earned, usually 
brings. The memory of the "best and dearest of 
brothers" clung to her with an all-absorbing power. 
It was her first and her last love. " You have made 
me completely happy for some time," she wrote from 
Hanover to his son, " with the account you sent me of 
the double stars ; but it vexes me more and more that 
in this abominable city there is no one who is capable 
of partaking in the joy I feel on this revival of your 
father's name. His observations on double stars were 
from first to last the most interesting subject; he 
never lost sight of it in his papers on the construction 
of the heavens, etc. And I cannot help lamenting 
that he could not take to his grave with him the satis- 
faction I feel at present in seeing his son doing him 
so ample justice by endeavouring to perfect what he 
could only begin." When Sir John Herschel delivered 
the address that preceded the handing over to Bessel 
of the Astronomical Society's Gold Medal for deter- 
mining, by means of the heliometer, the distance from 
us of the double star 61 Cygni, she was heart and soul 
with him when he said, "Gentlemen, I congratulate 
you and myself that we have lived to see the great 
and hitherto impassable barrier to our excursions into 
the sidereal universe — that barrier against which we 
have chafed so long and so vainly — ^almost simultane- 
ously overleaped at three different pointa"^ He 

^ Astron, Soc, Trans, xii. 448-53. 


described this discovery of the distance of a fixed star 
as the greatest and most glorious triumph which prac- 
tical astronomy has perhaps ever witnessed, and the 
three who shared the triumph between them were 
Bessel with 61 Cygni, Henderson ^ of Edinburgh with 
a Centauri, and Struve of Dorpat with a Lyras. BesseFs 
object-glass, that he got cut in two to form a helio- 
meter. Sir John saw at Munich before it was mounted, 
considered it invaluable, and believed that genius alone 
could have dared to divide it in two for the purposes 
of science. Caroline Herschel's delight, in her retire- 
ment, at the success of these three astronomers in 
following her baflBied brother's lead may be imagined. 
To know that the parallax of a fixed star had been 
found by Bessel to be the 3^ of a second ! To know 
that it was a double star ! To know, besides, that the 
smaller of the two companion stars revolved round 
the larger in an orbit fifty times the diameter of the 
earth's orbit round the sun, or two and a half times 
that of Uranus! and to know also that the pair of 
stars were 670,000 times as distant from us as is the 
sun ! To her these discoveries were a delightful com- 
mentary on her brother's words — " In this case, millions 
of years are perhaps but moments." The "little old 
woman " in the " abominable city " of Hanover, unable 
to endure " happy England," where her dead hero was 
buried, and where his son, her nephew, was a foremost 
name in the world of science, revelled in the news that 

* It is only just to Henderson to say that he was preferred by Lord 
Advocate Jeffrey to the Edinburgh Professorship of Astronomy over 
his rival, Thomas Carlyle. Froude was guilty of an unpardonable 
blunder in printing the unwise and acrimonious criticism of Carlyle on 
Henderson's fitness for the post. Facts had given a verdict in Hender- 
son's favour. 


were brought her of hopes at last fulfilled, and thought 
longingly of the seven-feet reflector, with which she 
used to sweep the heavens, as it stood in the room 
beside her, but which she should never use again. 

"How I envy you having seen Bessel," she wrote 
to her nephew in 1842 — " the man who found us the 
parallax of 61 Cygni." ^ 

" The seven-foot shall stand in my room, and be my 
monument," she wrote to her nephew in 1823; what 
to do with it was a puzzle to her. Her sweeper she 
thought of leaving to her girlhood's friend's daughter. 
Miss BeckedorfF, but in 1840 it was consigned to " the 
hands of the good, honest creature, Dr. Hausmann." 
"The five-foot Newtonian reflector," she wrote that 
same year,^ " is in the hands of the Royal Astronomical 
Society, and will be preserved by it as the little tele- 
scope of Newton is by the Royal Society, long after 
I and all the little ones are dead and gone." It was 
a source of justifiable pride to her as she neared the 

Faithful to the memory and greatness of her de- 
parted brother, she resented every attempt at an 
imperfect or unworthy presentation of his life and 
works. What she should have done herself, and she 
had better means than others of doing it truthfully 
and faithfully, she left to the ignorant or the conceited 
to attempt. She could only rail at their efforts, and 
wish they had left the work alone. It was not just 
to them or to him. The world wishes to know some- 
thing of those whose greatness of mind or achievement 
has enriched humanity or extended its knowledge of 

^ Memoirs, p. 327. 

a " Five-foot Newtonian sweeper," Memoirs, p. 91. 


nature. Herschel had done so in a pre-eminent degree. 
With good reason, then, the world said. Tell us about 
him; his faults, if he had any, we can forgive and 
forget ; his virtues we can admire or follow. Caroline 
Herschel did not take this view of her duty. She 
left it to others to write what she could have written 
better, and to record what she knew at first hand, and 
they did not know at all or only as dull echoes of a 
resounding past. " The Germans are very busy about 
the fame of your dear father," she writes ; " there does 
not pass a month but something appears in print, 
and Dr. Groskopf saw it stated that Professor Pfaff 
had translated all your dear father's papers from 
the Phil, Trans, into German, and which will be 
published in Dresden. I wish he had left it for some 
good astronomer to do the same." Evidently the 
acid of her temper had been called into action by 
Professor PfaflF. Her nephew describes him in reply 
as '* a respectable mathematician, and I hope it is he 
who undertakes the work." " Johann Wilhelm Pfafif," 
she answers, " professor, in Erlangen, is the same who 
intends to translate your father's papers, but those 
only which he can get a copy of. The Ph^sophuaZ 
TraTiaactions, I am told, are not within his reach." 
The acid is a little sweetened; not much, and it is 
clear that Caroline Herschel at eighty-five does not 
differ in temper at least from the same lady at twenty- 
two. Alas ! her inventory of books, pictures, etc., showed 
what she thought of the Professor's two- volume edition 
of her brother's collected works, "Abominable stuff! 
What is to be done with them ? They are so prettily 
bound, I cannot take it in my heart to bum them." 
But she could lash with her tongue everybody who 


even praised her dead hero. "Now we talk of bio- 
graphies," she wrote twelve years afterwards, " I have 
no less than nine of my poor brother, and heard of 
two more, one by Zach, which I shall try to get sight 
of. There is but one or two which are bordering on 
truth, the rest being stuff, not worth while to fret 
about. The best is accompanied with a miniature of 
Reberg's bad copy." "Bordering on truth! stuff!" 
Her description of her own racy letters is equally 
amusing: "I was in hopes you would have thrown 
away such incoherent stuff . . . and not to let it rise 
in judgment against my, perhaps, bad grammar, bad 
spelling, eta" 

Even a small matter became great where his name 
was concerned. " The following hint is only to you as 
a dear sister," she writes to her brother's widow, " for 
as such I now know you: — All I am possessed of is 
looked upon as their own, when I am gone ; the dis- 
posal of my brother's picture is even denied me — it 
hangs in Mrs. H.'s drawing-room, where a set of old 
women play cards under it on her club day." Summary 
also was her judgment of anyone who attempted to 
rival or surpass her brother: "The fellow is a fool." 
Great was her excitement on learning that her nephew 
was preparing to complete in the southern hemisphere 
the gauging of the heavens, which his father had 
begun, and for many a year carried on in the northern. 
That was allowable. It was a war trumpet blown 
within hearing of a war horse, that had served its last 
campaign. " Dr. Tias, who travelled through Hanover, 
called on me to-day," she writes to Lady Herschel. 
" He talked strangely about my nephew's intention of 
going to the Cape of Good Hope. Mr. Hausmann told 


me some weeks ago that the Times contained the same 
report, to which I replied, ' It is a lie ! ' but what I 
heard from Dr. Tias to-day makes me almost believe it 
possible. Ja ! if I was thirty or forty years younger, 
and could go too? In Gottes nahmen! But I will 
not think about it till you yourself tell me more of it, 
for I have enough to think of my cramps, blindness, 
sleepless nights, etc." She was a wonderful " little old 
woman." Pointed at on the street, honoured by the 
Palace, and saluted with prof oundest respect at theatre 
or concert, she wrote, "Next to listening to the con- 
versation of learned men, I like to hear about them, 
but I find myself, unfortunately, among beings who 
like nothing but smoking, big talk on politics, wars and 
such like things." Her indignation flamed up as fiercely 
when she was ninety years of age as it used to do when 
she was twenty, especially at anyone who took her 
for what she was not, weak of will or understanding. 
" Thank God, I have yet sense enough left to caution 
you against being imposed upon by a stupid being, 
who would make you believe I died under obligations 
to any of the family. I know he has already, without 
asking my leave, passed himself off" for my guardian, 
and is vexed at my being able to do without him. 
But I could not live without that little business of 
keeping my accounts ; and by my last book of expenses 
and receipts may be seen, that I owe nothing to any 
body, but to my dear nephew many many thanks for 
fulfilling his father's wishes, by paying for so many 
years the ample annuity he left me." What a brave 
little old woman she was ! Nobody but herself was at 
liberty to call her "an old poor sick creature in her 


Sometimes at the theatre to be seen and saluted by 
all, sometimes at the palace to be honoured by the 
King's brother as his countrywoman, sometimes in 
correspondence with scientific men, and hearing of 
their achievements, she maintained to the last her 
cheerful interest in life. Though her eyesight was 
failing, and she could " hardly find the line again she 
had just been tracing by feeling on paper," her nephew 
writes of her in 1832, " She runs about the town with 
me, and skips up her two pair of stairs as light and 
fresh at least as some folks I could name, who are not a 
fourth part of her age. ... In the morning till eleven 
or twelve she is dull and weary, but as the day 
advances she gains life, and is quite * fresh and funny ' 
at ten or eleven p.m., and sings old rhymes, nay, even 
dances ! to the great delight of all who see her." It 
is such a picture of four score as Cicero would have 
been overjoyed to prefix as a frontispiece to his treatise 
on " Old Age," had it been available in his day. She 
spoke in her usual spirit of drollery of "her brittle 
constitution," and looked for it going to pieces in the 
great heats of summer fourteen years before it did. 
"My complaint is incurable," she says, "for it is a 
decay of nature. . . . What a shocking idea it is to be 
decaying ! decaying ! But, never mind — if I am decay- 
ing here, there will be as Mrs. Maskelyne once was 
comforting me (on observing my growing lean) the 
less corruption in my grave!" But, in view of the 
end, it is always to " the best and dearest of brothers," 
to her " dear nephew," and to her namesake, his little 
daughter, that her thoughts revert. She enjoyed the 
present ; she revelled and lived in the past. " I have 
now received in all five letters," she writes to Lady 


Herschel at the Cape of Good Hope. " ELach time after 
having read them over again they are put by, under 
thanksgiving to the Almighty, with a prayer for future 

" Writing to my absent friends is one of the most 
laborious employments I could fly to when under 
bodily and, of course, mental sickness, for it is not 
impossible I might, instead of making inquiry about 
my little precious grand-nephew, and the young ladies, 
who play, sing and sew so prettily, write, 'Oh! my 
back, O ! I have the cramp here, there,' eta" She is 
nearing the end of life, " going many nights to bed 
without the hope of seeing another day." But the old 
spirit of drollery, and the lifelong love of science are 
constantly flashing out " I could not live without that 
little business of keeping my accounts," she writes, and 
shows herself true to a woman's household-place, and 
to science at the same time. " I hope people in England 
will never go such lengths in foolery as they do here." 
At Christmas time, " Cooks and housemaids present one 
another with knitted bags and purses, the cobbler's 
daughter embroidered neck-cushions for her friend the 
butcher's daughter, which are made up by the uphol- 
sterer at great expense, lined with white satin, the 
upper part, on which the back is to rest, is worked 
with gold, silver, and pearls." And, drollest of all, she 
adds, " Writing this, puts me in mind that I never could 
remember the multiplication table, but was obliged to 
carry always a copy of it about me." 

A last gratification, and certainly not the least of 
the many she enjoyed during her retirement, was the 
placing in her hands of her nephew's completion in 
South Africa of his father's survey of the heavens. 


It was a work of devotion to a father's memory and 
greatness, executed with untiring zeal and sometimes 
at the risk of broken bones. She was unable to read 
this record of the splendid work her nephew accom- 
plished, when four years of laborious research, and a 
longer period of study were at last crowned with 
presenting to the world a book, of which " it may be 
safely said, that no single publication, during the last 
century, has made so many and such considerable 
additions to our knowledge of the constitution of the 
heavens." What she could not read herself, another 
read for her, as her nephew recommended when he 
sent her a copy of the work. 

As the end of life and activity drew nearer, there is 
no longer the same desire to live she felt in previous 
years: "I have been very ill and confined to my 
room now three weeks, but it seems the Destroying 
Angel has passed away, at which I am very glad, 
because I wish to be a little better prepared for making 
my exit than I am at present." She was then eighty 
years of age. A few years later she began to feel 
more keenly the sadness of life, and the longing for 
something better than it ever gives. Many of the best 
and brightest minds have felt as she felt when she 
wrote these words : " The whole of yesterday I had no 
other prospect but that it would have been the last of 
the days of sorrow, trouble and disappointment I have 
spent from the moment I had any recollection of my 
existence, which is from between my third and fourth 
year. ... In the night I fell out of one fainting fit 
into another, and when I came to my recollection, be- 
tween six and 'seven in the morning, I found Dr. G. 
sitting before me talking loud in his usual nonsensical 


way. Him had Betty called in her fright, for his wife 
(who is of use to nobody) is gone to spend the summer 
months in the country." Even in the presence of death 
and in the ninetieth year of her age, the old spirit of 
drollery gives piquancy to her views of men and women. 
In committing to paper her last reflections on the dis- 
appointments of life, she writes : You " will see what a 
solitary and useless life I have led these seventeen 
years, all owing to not finding Hanover, nor any one in 
it, like what I left, when the best of brothers took me 
with him to England in August, 1772 !" In reality it 
was she herself, dissatisfied with earth, who was longing 
for something better than earth can give. She tells us 
what it was in the epitaph that she wrote on herself, 
and that was graven on her tomb : — 

Here rests the earthly exterior of 


Bom at Hanover, March 16, 1750, 
Died January 9, 1848. 

The eyes of Her who is glorified were here below turned to the 
starry Heavens. Her own Discoveries of Comets, and her par- 
ticipation in the immortal Labours of her Brother, William 
Herschel, bear witness of this to future ages. 

The Royal Irish Academy of Dublin and the Royal Astronomical 
Society of London enrolled Her name among their members. 

At the age of 97 years 10 months she fell asleep in calm rest 
and in the full possession of her faculties, following into a better 
Life her Father, Isaac Herschel, who lived to the age of 60 years 
2 months 17 days, and lies buried not far off, since the 29th of 
March 1767. 

Were it not for the unquestionable authority with 
which it comes to us that she wrote this account of her 
death with her own hand, we might be disposed to 


feel the same doubts about the authorship, that critics 
generally feel about the authorship of the last chapter 
of the Book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses is com- 
monly supposed to have recorded his own death and 
funeral. And thus closes the wonderful story of William 
Herschel and his sister Caroline, the story of the fairy 
prince of science coming to the sleeping princess of the 
heavens to awake her and all her company from the 
sleep of ages on the one hand, and, on the other, the 
story of the despised household drudge, Cinderella, 
taking a place, a deserved place, among the laurelled 
benefactors of humanity. Future ages are certain to 
witness many histories of men and women, of fairy 
princes and ragged Cinderellas, uniting perseverance 
to genius, prosaic detail to lofty imaginings. Other 
women since her time have shrined their names as 
worthy travellers among the stars ; but, while they may 
never eclipse the brightness of the sunshine I have 
endeavoured to picture in this little book, Encke's 
homage will be echoed by all time — "A lady whose 
name is so intimately connected with the most brilliant 
astronomical discoveries of the age, and whose claims 
to the gratitude of every astronomer will be as con- 
spicuous as her own exertions for extending the 
boundaries of our knowledge, and for assisting to 
develop the discoveries by which the name of her 
great brother has been rendered so famous throughout 
the literary world." 


(Page 44) 

In the short notice of his early life communicated by 
Herschel in 1783 to the editor of the Gottingen Magazine of 
Science and Literature, Herschel says little of that part of 
his residence in England which preceded his discovery by 
Dr. Watson in 1779. What he does say may be summed 
up in his own words :— 

I remained "in the army, however, until I reached my 
nineteenth year [1757], when I resigned and went over to 
England. My familiarity with the organ, which I had 
carefully mastered previously, soon procured for me the 
position of organist in Yorkshire, which I finally exchanged 
for a similar situation at Bath in 1766, and while here the 
peculiar circumstances of my post, as agreeable as it was 
lucrative, made it possible for me to occupy myself once more 
with my studies, especially with mathematics." ^ "A similar 
situation at Bath in 1766" seems to refer to the Octagon 
Chapel, and is so stated in his sister's Memoirs, But there 
are serious objections to this account of his removal from 
Halifax to Bath. 

In October 1822 there appeared in the New MontJdy 
Magazine, of which Thomas Campbell, the poet, was then 
editor, an obituary notice of Herschel, which gave another 
and a fuller version of his removal to Bath. Unfortunately, 

1 Professor Holden, Life and Works of Svr William Herschel^ p. 4. 


though the admiration and friendship of the poet for the 
astronomer are well known, it contains mistakes in dates, 
otherwise ascertained. " He was master of the band of a 
regiment which was quartered at Halifax in the year 1770" 
may be true, but "where he continued for many years" 
cannot be correct. It may also be true, though it seems to 
conflict with Southey's story, that he obtained the post of 
organist for the newly erected organ in that town through 
the influence of Joah Bates, son of the parish clerk. The 
story then proceeds : " Disliking the monotony of a coimtry 
town, he removed with his brother to Bath, where they 
were both engaged for the Pump-room band by the late 
Mr. Linley, who then conducted the first musical entertain- 
ments established in that city, and where the dehghtful 
warblings of his siren daughters, Mrs. Sheridan and Mrs.Tickel, 
will ever be remembered. Sir William was, like his nephew 
Griesbach, esteemed an excellent performer on the oboe, as 
his brother was on the violoncello." 

This connection of Linley with Herschel is not referred to 
by Caroline in her Memoirs, But it derives importance from 
the fact that, according to her testimony, there were, or seem 
to have been, disagreeable passages between them. At any 
rate there is good reason to believe that Herschel did not 
remove from Halifax to Bath, as has generally been given 
out, to become organist in the Octagon Chapel in 1766. 
"The Chapel was built in 1766, and opened for divine 
service in December 1767." Herschel had been more than 
a year in Bath at that time ; he had also been giving concerts 
on his own account, as his sister gives us distinctly to under- 
stand, and on January 3, 1767, he returns thanks, through the 
Bath Chronicle, to the company who did him the honour of 
attending his concert.^ He informs them at the same time 
that he teaches the guitar as well as singing, and takes 

1 1 am indebted for these facts to the kindness of Mr. Stnrge Cotterell, 
of Bath. 


pupils for the harpsichord and violin. That one of the 
principal memhers of the Pump-room band should be 
appointed organist in the newly erected Octagon Chapel 
is most likely, and he seems to have occupied the post for 
about nine years. ''He took great delight in a choir of 
singers who performed the cathedral service at the Octagon 
Chapel, for whom he composed many excellent anthems, 
chants, and psalm tunes." Caroline Herschel adds: ''This 
anthem was left with the rest of my brother's sacred com- 
positions, which were left in trust with one of the choristers. 
. . . All is lost. . . . With difficulty, many years after, one 
Te Deum was recovered, and when I was in Bath in 1800 I 
obtained two or three torn books of odd parts." It is 
difficult to understand why the compositions were left at all, 
still more to understand what Mr. Linley had to do with the 
matter, for " the chorister's wife openly charged Mr. Linley 
with having taken possession of these treasures." ^ 

The story in Campbell's magazine proceeds : " Sir William 
pursued his profession at Bath for some years, highly esteemed 
by a numerous circle of friends, and increasing in fame and 
fortune." Whether this was fact or poetic licence may be 
matter of debate ; but the words attributed by the writer to 
King George iii., that "Herschel should not sacrifice his 
valuable time to crotchets and quavers," may justly be 
accepted as genuine. And the two sentences with which the 
notice concludes go far to prove that the writer of it was the 
poet-editor himself: "Sir William possessed 'the milk of 
human kindness' in an eminent degree, and was most 
anxious to gratify his numerous visitors by explaining 'the 
complicated machinery of his mind ' in the simplest manner 
possible. No one ever returned from his hospitable cottage 
without feeling gratified with the urbanity of the man, and 
improved by the productions of his genius." 

A relic of these early days is still preserved at Bath in the 

1 MemcirSf note at p. 39. 


pieces of the organ on which Herschel played, and which 
may again be erected as a memorial of the great astronomer 
in the city that was the birthplace of his fame. 

Evidently Herschel's views of the heavens left an abiding 
impression on Campbell's mind.^ Eighteen years after his 
first meeting with Herschel, and nine after the astronomer's 
death, he became acquainted with Pond, then Astronomer- 
Royal, whose " most interesting and instructive " conversation 
he likens to " a gift from Providence." He then proceeds to 
say : " I had lately been dabbling in the astronomical relics of 
the Greek Alexandrian school, and had the idea of embodying 
my notes on ancient geography into a regular history, when 
this Life of Mrs, Siddons suspended my intention. But I 
have of late been so interested in the subject, that I 
revised my mathematics, the better to understand the 
histories of ancient science given by Ideler and Delambre. 
Mr. Pond's conversation has been, therefore, eagerly sought 
by me, — and he is most aflfably communicative. 

"We have just been gazing on Jupiter and his moons, 
through a glass that makes Jove appear as large as the 
sun's disk, and his satellites like ordinary stars ! The moon 
appears through it as large as a church. His opinion of her 
ladyship is that she is not inhabited — ^there being no atmo- 
sphere — and the whole region, probably, only ice and snow. 
Strange enough that a body, which creates such lively 
crotchets in so many human brains, should itself be cold and 

Campbell's poetry, whether in prose or verse, would 
probably have been more worth reading than Dr. Bumey's 
astronomical poem, but neither of them ever saw the light of 
day. One thing Campbell relates. Mrs. Pond, he says, 
"when I first saw her, as she was walking — shortly after 
their marriage — was a young, fair, and graceful woman, arm 
in arm with her very plain and elderly husband. There was 
1 See above, pp. 207-9. * Beattie, Life of Campbelly iii. 94. 



an epigram in the newspaper about them. Mr. Pond had 
published some remarks on the planet ' Venus,' and the wit 
asked him, 'Why he troubled himself about Venus in the 
skies, when he had got Venus beside him on earth 1 ' " 

The enthusiasm shown in Campbell's account of his inter- 
view with Herschel, however, does not appear to have been so 
lasting as could be wished. In his lines '* To the Bainbow," 
written six years after j in 1819, he says — 

'^When Science from Creation's face 
Enchantment's veil withdraws, 
What lovely yisions yield their place 
To cold material laws ! " 

The idea, like the feet in the last line, is somewhat 


Amici, 121. 
Asteroids, 72, 191. 

Banks, Sir Joseph, 111, 239. 
Bath, as seen by Smollett, 2 ; by 
Horace Walpole, 46. 
,, housekeeping at, 83. 
Brewster, Sir David, 102, 284. 
Bolman (Leeds), 88. 
Barney, opinion of Jacob Herschel, 
,, visit to Slough, 201. 
Bumey (Fanny), Windsor gossip, 

Campbell, interview with Herschel, 

,, New MomMy Magfoziney 

Catalogues of stars, 138, 227. 
Comets, 198. 

Dollond, 109. 

Eighteenth century, 41. 
Equerries at Windsor, 60. 
Eros, discovery of, 71. 
Error, limits of, 58. 

Facio Duillier, eclipse of 1706, 

Ferguson's Astronomyy 43. 
Fraunhofer, 99, 127. 

GaHleo, 99, 107. 
Gauges of stars, 141. 

George iii., a lover of astronomy, 84. 

delays in dealing with 
Herschel, 90. 

Triumvirate, 289. 
Georgium Sidus, 75. 
Glasgow, visits to, 204. 
Greenwich Observatory, 52. 

instruments, 88. 





Halley, eclipse of 1715, 63. 

„ flattery to Charles ii., 77. 
Hanover, society in, 84, 251. 
Harding, asteroid Juno,  72. 
Herschel, Caroline Lucretia, 8. 

relations towards her 

brothers, 8. 
Cinderella, 6, 255. 
a concert singer, 28. 
not successful, 82, 88. 
in England, 29. 
word-portrait of her, 30, 

the Lady's Comet, 81. 
her pension, 81 ; unpaid, 

honours paid to her, 243. 
view of Lives of her 

brother, 247. 
life in Hanover, 251. 
views on servants and 
workpeople, 84, 115, 
Herschel, Sir John F., decline of 
science in England, 97. 
distance of stars, 245. 
Cape of Good Hope, 249. 






Henchel, Sir WilliAm, birth, 8. 
father of, 6. 
mother's foolishneas, 8, 

9, 18, 21. 
schooldays of, 11. 
knowledge of languages, 

musical and mechanical 

abiUty, 13. 
astronomy, 14. 
visit to ^gland, 16. 
flight from Hanover, 

engagements in England, 

24, 257. 
visit to Itoly, 26. 
removes to Bath, 27. 
gives concerts there, 27, 

appointed to Octagon 

Chapel, 28, 258. 
race for fame, 32. 
work in Bath, 85. 
drought by day, frost by 

night, 89. 
discovery of, 47. 
aims in observing, 53. 
length of earth's day, 66. 
''Accountof aComet," 68. 
Uranus, 73. 
Cataloffue of Double 

Stars, 80. 
contributions to Phil, 

Trans,, 81. 
Copley Medid, 84. 
public opinion, 85. 
summoned to court, 86. 
''showman of the 

heavens,'' 89. 
no honour bestowed till 

1816, 94. 
encouragement of science, 

disparagement of his 

work, 101, 222. 
King's Astronomer, 103. 
polishing his great 

mirror, 112. 
his ingenuity, 117. 
accidents, 119. 


















Herschel, requiem of telescope, 125. 
reviews of the heavens, 

simplicity and kindness, 

209, 259. 
faiUng health, 210. 
religious sentiments, 215. 
Arago's eulogium, 217. 
Huggins, Sir William, 229. 



Jupiter, 175. 

Keats, 91. 

Laboratories of universe, 139. 
Lalande, 40, 51, 58, 77, 88, 105. 
Linley, Pump*room band, 27, 258. 
,, his daughter's singing, 28. 

Mars, 173. 

Maskelyne, honoured by the 

French, 86. 
Mercury, 168. 
Messier, 111. 
Micrometer, 80. 
Milky Way, 143, 233. 
Moon, mountains, 54. 

,, volcanoes, 56. 

,, atmosphere, 60. 
More, Hannah, 29. 

Napoleon, 207. 

Nebulse, relative antiquity, 147. 
,, resolvable and gaseous, 
Nebular hypothesis, 235. 
Newton, encouragement to, 97. 

,, his telescope, 107. 
Niemeyer, 26. 

Olbers, discovery of asteroids, 72. 
, , absorption of light by ether, 

Pfaff, 248. 

Piazzi, 72, 119. 

Points and blunts, war of, 51. 

Pringle, Sir John, 51. 

Rosse, Lord, 121. 



Saturn, 176. 
Schroeter, 169. 
Stannyan, Oaptain, 60. 
Stars, periodical, 51. 

changes among, 130. 
double, 219. 
spectra of, 226. 
growth of, 227. 
unity of design in, 228. 
distance of, 245. 
Southey, story of Herschel, 25, 

Sun, total eclipses of, 1706, 1715, 
corona and red flames of, 62. 
moTements, 185. 
spectrum of, 157. 



Sun, heat, light, and chemical rays, 
,, spots, 161. 

Telescope, price-catalogue in 1771, 

sales of, 122. 

refractors. 111, 127. 
Triumvirate, the, 289. 


Uranus, 186. 

Venus, 169. 

Walpole, 46, 151. 

Watson, William, and William 
Watson, jun., 47. 




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